Friday, April 9, 2010

25 Random Things: # 6

6. If they offered me a place on a space mission to explore new planets, I'm gone. No doubt, no hesitation. I won't even pack. I'll buy it when I get there.

Seriously, how could you not do this? The adventure of it, not knowing what's out there? Even the danger involved. I'm there. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of America, and an even bigger fan of the Earth. This is my home. I like it. But I'm gone.

There's too much out there, too much unknown, to much to discover and too much to explore. I wouldn't even stop to pack. I'll get it when I get there. From some alien convenience store.

There's not really a lot I can say about this one. Either you're in, or you're out. You want to make the trip, or you're staying at home. Simple.

The only drawback would be having to leave Neeve, and I'm not sure I could do that. So it might have to be when she is older and has her own life going on. Or maybe she can go with me.

We'll figure it out. But somehow, someday, someway, I'm going.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on driving over here

As I've said in the past, I won't be critical of the United Kingdom, as Neeve was born and is being raised here. She's British (and American), but being raised as a Brit. I'm not going to be derogatory, make fun, or ridicule the country, the people or the customs. The government is a different issue however; as it is always appropriate to ridicule the government.

The one thing that has irritated me the most here (beyond Immigration) is the issue of car insurance. I recently bought a car. An old, 1999, piece-of-shit, Ford Mondeo Estate (station wagon). It cost me £350 ($600). It’s probably the most expensive thing I own right now, but it's still just an old beater.

In my life, I've driven in the United States, Canada, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Latvia (the worst country in Europe for driving), Lithuania, Germany, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Angola (it has to be experienced to be believed). A variety of countries, many of them not known for their special skills on the road. But I've spent 30 years driving in those countries, without an accident of any kind, and haven't had a ticket in 20 years. I've only had 3 total, and they all came in an 18-month period after I left the autobahns of Germany.

Now, to my way of thinking, the United States is a developed country, and you don't just get handed a driver's license. There are written and driving tests required, insurance is mandatory, and the police are all over the place. There are strict rules and procedures for driving. This isn't like some other countries, where, although a licenses and insurance are required, the lack of either can be handled with a $20 to the police. No, there are standards, and records that cover the driving period, document all accidents and tickets, and a standardized system for tracking all of this.

So what is my problem, you might wonder? The United Kingdom refuses to recognize this. I can't receive my U.K. driver's license as a transfer from my U.S. license. And I'm not happy.

There are four categories of licenses available in the U.K.:

Full - just like what you get in the states
Provisional - a temporary license for people like me until we pass a written and driving test to get a full license
International - one of those paper licenses you get at AAA for $10, and gives you a year of driving anywhere in the world
Learners - a restricted license for people learning to drive

But if I came from one of the following countries, I could exchange my license with no problem:

British Virgin Islands
Falkland Islands
Faroe Islands*
Hong Kong
New Zealand
Republic of Korea*
South Africa

Now I realize that a lot of those are Commonwealth countries, but Japan? South Korea? Monaco!!!?


So I need to get a provisional license, and have to take a written and driving test. As far as they are concerned, my U.S. license carries no more weight than one from Angola or Iraq would carry.

So you'll know why I'm bitching, this is not just the inconvenience of having to take the tests. I think its silly, but I can deal with that. No, it goes much deeper than that.

Insurance on a full license - £54 ($90) per month

Insurance on a provisional license - £111 ($170) per month

See the issue. I'm getting screwed. My driving isn't considered good enough to warrant a lower rate, but people from other countries from throughout the world can come to the U.K. and exchange their licenses. For the simple reason that there has been a governmental agreement between the two. It doesn't matter what the standard, or what the background of the driver is. Just what is on the cover of the their passport.

They get a full U.K. license. And cheap insurance. Meanwhile, I've been driving for 30 years with no accidents and tickets against my record, in a country with some of the highest standards in the world, and I'm a substandard driver.

To be fair, I don't know what the procedure for Brits moving to the states is, so this could be the fault of the United Stats also. But maybe not. But the U.K. doesn't have to do it. They just are.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The political process

General elections are coming soon, and will be held on May 9th. The campaign season has begun. Who is elected concerns me, as I live here now. Particularly since immigration is the second biggest issue in the election, behind the economy. As an immigrant myself, I'm curious and wondering. As a permanent resident, I don't get to vote, as I'm not a citizen. Same system as in the states. I can't run for office, either. Maybe one day, if I decide to take citizenship. We'll see how it goes, and if they decide to let immigrants stay.

What I don't agree with is the fact that other residents and non-citizens do get to vote. If a citizen of a European Union country moves to the U.K., they are allowed to vote in all elections, except national parliamentary elections. So they can vote for local councilors, mayors, etc; just not Ministers of Parliament. I don't have a problem with them getting to do that. In fact, it's actually a good idea, to my way of thinking. The residents of the E.U. nations live here, shop here, spend money here, send their kids to school here, and pay taxes here. They are settled, a part of the community, and should get to vote.

The issue I have is that I do all of the same things, especially pay taxes, and I'm not allowed to vote. That hardly seems fair to me, after all, if other immigrants get to vote, why shouldn't I? I know its one of those E.U. things, which is ruining Europe, but it would seem to be a matter of discrimination to me. One group gets to do something based on where they are from, but another doesn't get to do the same thing based on where they are from? People from Bulgaria, a country known for it's democratic values, get to vote for mayor, but I don't?

I know this is beating a dead horse, and no one is going to listen to me. But this is one thing I don't like. Just seems wrong that I don't get a say in how much my water bill is. Wow, taxation without representation. Nah, just kidding.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Saving our dough

Sunday, Easter Sunday that is, I was going to go do my grocery shopping for the month. No particular reason for that day, just needed to get it done. After all, my days kind of all run together, so which day I do my errands isn't really important. So I got to the shopping center, and to my surprise, all the stores were closed. I was kind of confused, but couldn't do much about it, so I headed home. Most of the way convenience stores, restaurants and pubs were open as usual, but as I drove back, I noticed all the big stores were closed along the way. Imagine Wal-Mart and all the malls being closed on the Sunday of a 4-day weekend. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

I mentioned it to a co-worker that night, and he told me something that surprised me a little. Actually, a lot. They were all closed because it's the law. Based on religion, which happens, but still seems strange. Much like the United States, the United Kingdom used to have 'blue laws'. Essentially, stores couldn't be open on Sunday because it was the Sabbath. The only place to spend your money was the collection plate. For a country where only 10% of the population attends church and religion isn't all that important, the church still has a lot of power.

Remember, it is a state church, and the head of the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the monarch, even though it is really the Prime Minister. That's the Church of England, for those that don't know. The Anglican Church as its known around the world, and the Episcopal Church in the states. Yep, England's answer to Catholicism. According to my co-worker, the law was changed awhile back to allow big stores to stay open on Sundays, but with the agreement that they would be closed on Easter. Convenience stores, restaurants, and pubs, which had always been open on Sundays, were exempt form this. So eating and drinking is allowed, but not buying stuff. I guess I'm okay with that, fundamentally speaking.

I don't remember this from last year, although I was here. I wasn't working at the time, and hadn't been for 5 months. I didn't have the money to go shopping, regardless of whether or not the stores were open. I had been here a few times in April before, but not on Easter. So a new thing for me, entirely. As stated many times, this isn't meant to be an insult, but informative. I remember living in Georgia in the mid-'80's and not being able to buy beer on a Sunday. Even worse, when I was forced to live in Kansas in 2005, you still couldn't buy beer on a Sunday there, either. You could drive to a bar, drink there, and drive home, but not buy it a store and take it home to drink.

So in two different countries, one with a state church, and one with separation of church and state, some of the same archaic religious traditions still dominate, and saving you soul trumps saving your dough.

Friday, April 2, 2010

25 Random Things: # 5

5. Beer, pizza, ice cream, buttermilk biscuits. I believe that pretty much says it all.

Nothing really a lot to say about this one. But I'll try.

1. Beer - considering I didn't drink until I was a sophomore in college, and didn't really start drinking until a year later, this was surprising to me. I never thought I would be a big drinker. My friends I hung with in school didn't drink, so I didn't. I didn't have a problem with drinking, or those who did. I just didn't do it myself.

My sophomore year in college, our school's men and women's basketball teams won the national championships. While the playoffs were going on, we started going to all the games. And then going out to the bars afterwards to celebrate. It was fun, and the start of something.

So, since then I've drank more than any person should. I used to work in a liquor store, and people would ask me what I drank. I would just point to the shelf behind me and tell them to pick something, because I used to drink it. A lot of tequila and whiskey, as well as the beer. And schnapps. Man, I love me some schnapps.

But those days are over with. Now it's just beer on occasion, as I'm hardly drinking at all (working nights will do that) and some whiskey once in awhile. Of course, not having any money really cuts down on that also.

2. Ice cream - I love it. Vanilla, mostly. Some chocolate chip every once in awhile. But mostly vanilla, with some chocolate sauce on it. Or even better, some butterscotch. Man, I love vanilla ice cream with butterscotch.

For those of you reading previously, you'll know that Neeve loves ice cream too. It must be a genetic thing. She likes strawberry, which is a good choice, but it's not vanilla. And vanilla shakes. Those are good too.

The best ice cream I've ever had was in Amsterdam, which, oddly, is not known for its ice cream. If you stand in Dam Square, and look at the palace, just to the right of it is a little alleyway. Between the palace and the Rembrandt museum. If you go down that alleyway about 25 yards in, on the left side, there's a little shop about the size of a walk-in closet. I don't know if it's still there or not, as I haven't been in a few years. I hope it is. Now that I'm legal, I need to take a road trip.

3. Buttermilk biscuits - what can I say, its the country in me. Since I can remember, I've loved biscuits. I can't get enough of them. I'm not talking English biscuits, which are cookies. I'm talking scones, but so much more than that. Get them hot out of the oven, slap a pound of butter on them, and that's a meal for a king.

In fact, that is my breakfast a lot of time. A bunch of biscuits and nothing else. Of course, my cholesterol is up, but I don't care. I'm not missing out on my biscuits. Slap some gravy on them for biscuits and gravy, some hot coffee, and I'm in redneck heaven. I could eat biscuits 3 meals a day, and have them for a snack in between.

Those are my three staples of life. Those are my 5 food groups: beer, ice cream, butterscotch sauce, biscuits and butter. I'm not healthy, but I'm happy. Are you with your crap vegetarian diet?