Thursday, 24 April 2014

Scribbling #42: The Big Move (Part One)

This is not a blog post about being able to move abroad.  That you’re going to have to look up in a book that relates to the country that you’re going to.  Or some sort of website.  But not the phone, since people in immigration are usually very busy and there is a very high probability that a citizen of your favourite new country will be very rude to you, making you wonder why you’re bothering in the first place.  On this note, do not move to France, because everybody is rude, never mind the immigration authorities.

No, this is a post that details my experience of moving abroad – again – and this time from the UK to the literally great nation of Canada.  After all the boring stuff had happened, such as making sure that we had enough money, waiting for ages for the visa to come through, feeling that you were stuck in a waiting room marked ‘life’, thinking that it would be a good idea not to bother since our lives seemed to be working out all right, thank you – once that was all out of the way, I had to pack up the house.  My parents, who were kind enough to let our family stay at theirs while we slowly counted down to flight day, well, they lived *here*, while I lived *here*.  This turned out to be a daily routine that lasted from 7am to 2am because our house was a rental. 

Put kids and Crayola together, and you quickly find out that said stationary is never used on paper.  Put a young toddler in a carpeted room, and there will be excrement that has irrevocably stained the shag pile.  Stuff accumulates.  Stuff needs to be re-painted, cleaned, etc.  Otherwise you’re going to be mauled for fines because you’ve left a bit of fluff next to where the fridge was standing before you sold it.  At least, that’s what our big and scary rental agreement said, anyway.  From this, you’re wanting a clear out, so friends, family and Help the Wizened Wise Sages all get to reap the benefits of your so-called worldly goods which is really, at the end of the day,  nothing more than tat.

Nice tat, but still, nonetheless, tat.

You name your dog after eBay. 

At this point, if we actually owned a house, we would have gone stark raving bonkers in order to sell it and all the rubbish inside.  Now, imagine that you’ve done all this over a period of three days before you hand the keys over to the estate agent.  The estate agent walks around the house for 4 minutes and 32 seconds before declaring that your condensed 50-odd hours of work of getting the house so spotless you could drink straight from the toilet is "adequate for the area".  You say thank you, then drive back to the parents. 

The next day, you sell your car. 

You spend the next couple of days getting very comfy in the bathroom, discussing interesting items with the porcelain throne since your immune system is now completely shot.  Your children don’t know you anymore because you’ve been away for four days, and everything that you thought was not okay for your mum back in the day is now okay for your children to do in the very same house that you grew up in.  This confuses and bemuses you. 

You go back to talking to the toilet. 

It’s now D-Day and it’s time to go.  Your lovely wife has put all nine pieces (count them, nine) of luggage in an order that won’t have a hope in an icy Canadian wasteland that any of them would go through luggage control because they are all overweight.  You spend a literally feverish two hours sorting out the luggage just before the taxi arrives to find out that the taxi has already arrived.  You say goodbye to the parents, the children say goodbye, we all say goodbye.  We get everything into the taxi – just - strap the kids in, make sure that we all have our passports and paperwork for the umpteenth time and the friendly ex-police officer ex-ministerial bodyguard taxi driver drove us away.  And yes, you’re really doing this.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Scribbling #41: The Supermarket Cart

Not only do they call it by a different name - a "cart" instead of a "trolley" - but there are many things that are very strange and slightly unnerving about entering such places with names like 'Wal-Mart' and 'Canadian Superstore'.

There is the attitude of a lot of drivers around the *cough* parking lot *cough* whereby they are permanently and irrevocably scared of pedestrians crossing the road towards where they need to be.  This can either be the store or the car/van/whimsy of a truck, whichever is in the interest of the person in the direction that they're going.  It's like they see a person, stare for a second as the neuron fires, then the brakes slam down, causing the car to go into a skidding halt across Canadian Snow and Ice   It was as if they saw an amazing, incomparable thing and had to stop and make sure that it actually exists.  On the other hand, I am a pretty darn handsome specimen, something Canada may not have seen before.

I'm taking your silence as awe with a slice of reverence on the side.

Or, it could be that the Canadian Snow and Ice was covering the unseeable crossing, and the only thing that was really stopping them was the law.  Other than that, I'm sure I would be a smear across the parking lot that may not be good for me in the long run, but would be good for the landscaping.

Which brings me not-at-all neatly to the supermarket cart.  This is not, but any stretch, something like a Tesco trolley.  Oh, nosiree Bob, eh?  The generic Tesco trolley is a wonderful thing within an establishment such as ah... Tesco and not so much within a canal.  This lovely thing is more agile than a mosquito in a tornado, something that you can turn around at any given angle, spin around and make a 180-degree turn without any trouble at all.  And I would always, by default, get the one with the wobbly wheel.  It's like wanting to sponsor the amazingly ugly kid on World Vision or something.  Nobody else is going to do it, so you have to show them how it's done.

That was possibly the worst analogy in the world.  There is no such thing as a cute trolley.

Anyway, the thing is, is that, well... only the two front wheels spin around in most of the shopping carts in Canada.  I may be corrected and told that the full AWD spinning carts do exist, but I haven't come across them yet.  I thought that this was a horrible, horrible thing.  It was made even more repulsive by the fact that the trolley sits high enough for the elderly to rest their upper torso on while carrying out their shopping routine around the badly disorganised supermarket.  Yes, you, you in the back, your hands are on the same place on that shopping cart where once an elderly lady has rested her chest against it.  Ugh.

It doesn't become clear until you go outside.  Until then, you're grumbling about how the cart handles, that it doesn't know how to go around a corner properly, that it's too big and it's being driven by an idiot.  Pretty much sums up most North American driving, then.  Before you take the cart outside, you won't understand.  The huge truck thing you won't understand either, until you get your hands on a shopping cart.  These things with your groceries in, with their fixed rear wheels, will give you greater traction in the snow.  Edmonton has snow six months out of the year.  This is where it's at.  Trucks are huge, ungainly, won't go around corners and are driven by idiots, but they go through the white fluffy stuff pretty well indeed.  Same as the humble supermarket cart.  If its wheels weren't fixed, then they would be going all over the place, making the person who has just shopped a very angry person indeed.  You don't need an angry person behind the wheel of a two-ton truck with 400 horsepower.  That would end badly.  Make the carts have fixed wheels, said a smart person.  All will be well.

Goshdarnit, I'm a handsome beast.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Scribbling #40: Manual is not a Spanish Waiter

During our transition back to In-gel-stan, I bought our family a shiny car to go along with our shiny new life.  It was a large estate (translation for Canadians and other exotic species: 'station wagon', not a piece of land on wheels), it was black and above all, it was Central European - a Skoda.  Yes, I do like a good. reliable Skoda.  I don't do 'cool' or 'French', I do 'less bills', 'less money'.

Mrs. C is Canadian, and that comes with a few problems.  Not just the penchant for using a lot of land in order to go nowhere (e.g. Saskatchewan) , or the constant moaning on about the lack of good cheap steak anywhere else in the world except for Alberta, but because she had to prove that she could drive a manual car in order to drive the car that I had just bought.  For the record, Mrs. C had been driving a "standard" for the last six years in Slovakia, where the police only seemed to care if you're carrying a passport, yellow jacket and a warning triangle, if not an actual license.  When presented with the fact that she had to prove that she could drive our new, shiny, manual car, her equally shiny Canadian driver's licence only covered automatics.

This is a shame, because in the UK saying that you "only" have an automatic licence blesses you with the stigma of  "only" being an incompetent driver or an American.  Delete where appropriate.

We really should have done our research before we bought the shiny Skoda.  It led to an attempt at driving lessons that more or less failed miserably, after talking to a miserable, starving, driving instructor.  We also found out that it now takes an average of fifty, FIVE-O, driving lessons in order to pass the driving test.  Totally put off by the general miserableness (that year's UK summer weather being the most rubbish on record), we came to a reluctant agreement to change the shiny Skoda to a shiny something else, hopefully two for the price of one, like we did with our Passat.

I really should have got a bumper sticker for that car that read, 'All parts falling off this vehicle are engineered by Germany'.

We decided, after a democratic dictatorship-style (mine) vote, to NOT buy an MPV/minivan.  If we did buy one this says a couple of things.  First, goodbye to all resemblance of manhood.  Second, school run mum.  Instead we did something worse.  We bought a 4x4 Volvo.  Which still smacks of school run mum, but at least we're bigger than everyone else because we need to protect our children!

This machine was, in an old man kind of way, comfy and reliable, like putting on a familiar pair of shoes or an old baggy sweater from the back of the cupboard. And then 12 months on, just before its MOT (technical test) kicked in, it just... died.  Like, no hope for the future died.  Like, we just got a call this morning then Uncle Steve had just dropped dead after watching EastEnders.  It was shocking.  We were then a family that was down to one itty-bitty car where we have to squeeze our entire family into a 3 door supermini.  It's no mean feat, but at least I'm still limber enough to (somewhat gracefully) insert the chilluns into their child seats.

And now we're off to Canada, land of V8 pick-up trucks, hockey, maple syrup, bad beer and amazingly polite beggars.  If we bought a *cough* minvan there, then it would have its own area code and have a postbox as an optional extra.  You can get in and eventually you'll get to the seat with the steering wheel.  For some reason it's on the wrong side of the car, but I'll just put that down to rebellious colonials. 

I shall get my cowboy hat ready.  I'm sure that nobody will approve.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Scribbling #39: The First Stages...

Stage One had been completed, but Stage Two has probably been the hardest so far of all.

‘Stage One, Stage Two?’ I don’t hear you cry. ‘What’s he blabbering about now?’

Stage One was the advent of the leaving of the Slovak Republic and getting into the UK, in a Skoda Fabia. It’s green, with a key scratch on the left hand side, a broken wheel trim, and the steering makes all sorts of interesting clonking noises.  If I cut you off on the way out, then I’m sorry, although not really.

Stage One was completed without any fanfare, but a lot of adult-inedible snacks for Joseph were involved, a nice pit stop was made in Badenweiler, Germany, via Austria and Switzerland, and then via Austria again via an angry Austrian policeman who wanted me to move me out of the way of all the other traffic that were all trying to go via somewhere else, with the AAP (Angry Austrian Policeman, get with it) not realising that wifey was inside at the border office, not realising that it was the border office, as we were trying to pay an overly-expensive highway sticker for Switzerland, and border offices don’t do highway stickers. All because they’re almost probably run by the French who are, at the end of the day, a little bit French.

If in doubt, bring up a thousand years of animosity and blame the French, that’s what I have never actually said, but I think I’ve implied it enough.

Post-Stage One, therefore, has been spent more-or-less half and half at the parents’ house and with another family in Dudley, who were very lovely to us for coping with a screaming child every morning at 6am on the dot, making us feel very welcome. Interviews for moi were carried out over the week., three in total over two days. For helpful contacts, I quite rightly blame Mr. Armitage. During that time, we visited a couple of friends (a couple who were friends, more to the point), and went our merry way around the area while we were booking interviews, eating fast-food and joining the sweaty, acne-ridden ranks of the British unemployed.

Stage Two was when Christina and Joseph left for snowy Romania to visit another friend and to help out/coo over with the friend’s newborn. Everything was packed and ready to go, we found ourselves waiting in the airport car park to be picked up by the bus for the very short trip to the airport, and then a thought struck me.

‘Car seat,’ I said to Christina.

With an ‘oh’, she took the car keys off of me, leaving me with Joseph who was eyeing up all the ladies at the bus stop. After a couple of minutes, Christina came back, car seat in hand, and all was good. They were now ready to check in.

In the line at the airport, we had a bit of “fun” with the bags, so Christina took off her coat and put it in the checked luggage. This is a plot point, and an important one. We did all the things that were necessary to get us through this bit, passports and whatnot, then we said a long goodbye just outside of security.

Sighing wistfully, my mind suddenly did that thing where you know that you’ve forgotten something, but it isn’t going to tell you until you’re outside a certain radius of the place that you are in right now. It confused and subjugated my poor little brain, until it decided to go into “default” and so I stared blankly into space while waiting for the bus to arrive to take me to the car park.

Getting there, I came out, walked towards the car and felt for my keys.

Funny thing about keys is that... life seems to be about them. You need keys for your house, your locker, your car and you even need a key for the little cabinet to keep all your keys in. I, at this time, especially needed one for my car.

Which is the one that I didn’t have.

Since Christina still had it.

And she didn’t have a phone.

And she was about to fly off to another country within an hour.


English manly men do not panic  We've all seen Dad's Army, where the old man shouts out "don't panic" while obviously doing so.  Luckily, the other half of me, the Scottish bit, was a bit disconcerted so poked the English bit into action to actually do something, otherwise it would get all independent of myself.  I saw one of the car park people walk vaguely towards their car, so I rushed over, said that I needed to use their car as soon as possible due to the above reasons, so please, please, please, could you take me to the airport?

Yes, she said.

She drove us there in the same manner as Jack Bauer did after finding out that his daughter was kidnapped for the infinityith time.

Diving out of the car with a well trained ‘thank you’, and wondering how I was still standing upright after that type of car ride, I ran, ran, I tell you, up to security, praying frantically that this won’t become a complete frickin' nightmare. I explained everything to them, expecting a huge amount of help and assistance straight away. Happily, this did not happen, affirming that Luton hasn’t changed much over the years, bless ‘em.

After a bit of talk back and forth about who BlueAir was, everybody agreed that nobody could do anything at all, and that I had to go back downstairs to talk to the airline. Once again, everybody agreed that nobody could do anything, so after I prodded a bit more, they decided that the best thing to do was to put a call out using one of those red phones on the wall.

It was a small red phone attached to the wall, looking as if someone got some sort of idea that if you rang it, Batman might actually come.  In any case, a helpful person was on the other line and after hanging up, I rushed back upstairs to security, whereupon Christina was being escorted through by a Mr. McSecurity. It should have ended there but the thing is... is that the keys were in her coat which she loaded into the checked luggage earlier. Remember that plot point?

Flying from desk to desk afterwards, we eventually got the bag off the plane, the car keys were retrieved, the bag was checked back on, and we said another fare thee well. In this sweeping statement I missed out the bit when I got frustrated at EasyJetWoman’s amazing capacity of saying ‘I can’t do that’ until I was overly assertive at her, ending the problem. But other than that, no swear words were running through my internal dialogue so after two years in Slovakia I guess I have grown.

I paid the 10 quid for parking, and the first two songs to play on Radio 2 on the way home was the wildly inappropriate "Substitute" sung by Clout, and Bon Jovi’s "Living on a Prayer".

It was way too cheesy not to be a coincidence.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Scribbling #38: The Babka Army

The "babkas", or grandmothers, or, in extreme cases as seen in a previous post, OLM (Old Lady Mafia), are to some extent the backbone of Slovak society.  Unfortunately, it could do with some sort of lumbar support, as there are various pains and complaints that surround the aforementioned back area.  Maybe even a bit of sciatica for good measure.  To put it bluntly, most of them see the 80's during Communism as some sort of Golden Age where they knew where they were, knew where they stood in the bread line, and also knew that it was going to take an impressively long time to get their own car, if they could afford it.

The ones in the village are the worst and the best at the same time.  They will give you vegetables for free, while dishing out "advice" (scantily-clad orders) for the husband to find a better job so that he can finally fix that roof, repair that hole, and get rid of that, that and especially that.  Their pensions are tiny, as back in the bad old days, everyone got the same and everyone was more or less on the same level regardless of experience or skill.  A doctor would only earn a little more than a factory worker.  Once they get to a certain age, the beige, brown and off-white clothes come out, and they would rebel against any sort of fashion sense and stick with those colours, thankyou very much.  There are some fundamentalist extremists that go the other way, and insist on doing the high-heel, I've-still-got-it look, but those are in a tiny minority, and none of them can pull it off.  The other small minority are those who actually do try to keep working everyday, and have some appreciation of other colours in the visible spectrum.

And let's not forget the "everyday advice" (basically more orders).  This could range from anything.  The babkas are, mostly, some of the most pessimistic bunch there are, while being the most friendly.  It's a strange mix, and it really doesn't have to be experienced.  You can live without it and die happy, it's fine.  During our lil' Joseph's baby dedication, I was bouncing him on my knee so that he didn't squirm too much, get over-stimulated from all the people looking at him, and cry.  I was dead in the water.  Almost instantly, I was set upon by a couple of ladies who wanted to give us their so-called help.  After what happened, we were lectured on what not to do... not what to actually do in the first place, but what not to.  Nothing positive really came out of it, as happens when you're given a tongue-lashing for the sake of it.  As new parents, we're thankful we're not that type who ignore the child by just shutting yourself away.  We show love to him, we play with him, we attend to him.  We keep it healthy, because we want him to have a healthy relationship not just with us, but with others as well later on down the line.

There's one massive difference of almost biblical proportions between the babkas and today's generation.  We have passports, they didn't.  They could only have permits to go around the other countries around Eastern Europe, such as Hungary.  It is becoming more and more common for Slovaks to leave the country and find work abroad, and then come back with new, positive ideas.  One of my colleagues wishes to open up a community park, as he saw one at work in Dubai.  Another knows the importance of being successful while having a balanced life, and not getting sucked into the "new wealth" of the country.  There are always nay-sayers and there always will be, but taking a fresh, reasonable approach to things is a great start to this post-Communist time.  We've probably gone into post-post-Communist, and it might end up being pre-(insert something here) at this rate.

Working towards establishing a community through actually doing something rather than telling other people what to do should be a growing trend here, or anywhere for that matter, and if today's people can do that, then they can stand tall.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Scribbling #37: The London Riots

Taken from the viewpoint of somebody that is British but actually lives away from The Motherland, and since there have been a fair few questions from my Slovak colleagues, my first response to the inevitable query is that, well, "it's sad".  I feel disappointed about our country and culture, and having to defend them since I'm an expat.

However, I believe that the government has handled it well, although definitely not as quickly as one would like.  The individual can move a lot faster than an established group, and this is seen here as random people are pilfering from shops, throwing rocks at police, setting fire to buildings, along with horrendous muggings and even murder.  This isn't all disenfranchised hooded youth either, as is shown on television.  People that have been caught have ranged from the guy who takes away your rubbish every Monday, to university students, and even a primary school teacher.  Yeah, the people who were looking after your children, where were they?  These people have seen the opportunity and taken it, since it means that they get to have more stuff.  More shoes, more electronic items, more clothes, more food.  The UK is a very expensive country to live in, especially when compared to here, and people who don't make the grade may feel continually trodden on until they just don't care anymore.  Others may never have cared in the first place, and just want to see the world burn.

People who leave comments on various news channels have said such things as using water cannons and rubber bullets, in some cases to bring back the rope, burn them at the stake, water torture, and even bringing in the British Army.  Remember the bit when Labour was in power and they used the Army to quell a minor prison riot?  That didn't go down so well...  Although the water cannons and rubber bullets (which can both kill) are on standby, the streets of London have been (according to news reports) flooded by police.  This is totally the right thing to do.  Police keep order, infantry kill people with big frickin' guns.  Happily, the guy in charge is David Cameron, not Pol Pot, so when he eventually came back from holiday, he had a sit-down with the police or Cobra or Sylvester Stallone or whoever, formed a plan, then talked to the press.  Instead of talking like Theresa May, saying that all the rioting won't be tolerated, he spoke about what the police will do and then carried it out.

People can be like sheep.  If somebody does something, and they don't get caught, then someone else will see them and do the same thing.  This young man here (the video above) caught on camera what people do when they just follow each other.  An idea from this, then, is to be a rebel.  To do something that nobody else is doing.  Joining the riots because everybody else is doing it is moronic.  Helping to clean up the streets afterwards goes against UK culture, in that current thinking is that the government should pick up the pieces afterwards.  To be an actual, living, breathing community within a crowded society is a wonderful thing.  This is exactly the time for the good ol' C of E to get out of their four walls, volunteer and help out.  After the hockey riots, the people of Vancouver went out in force and cleaned up the place afterwards, taking holidays if needs be, since they were so embarrassed about what their fellow countrymen had done.  England should do the same, in that we should be proud of the place in which we live.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Scribbling #36: Welcome to Earth

It's 4 a.m and I've been awake now for the last half an hour due to Mrs. C accidentally knocking over a glass while attending to JJ, which shocked me completely awake as opposed to the near-sleepy-wakefulness that happens when you're concerned with your two-month old.  The cleaning up and making sure everyone was fine period happened vaguely smoothly, with not even a peep from the baby.  Me, on the other hand, still had that "I'm now wide awake enough to be annoyingly awake so that I can't actually get back to sleep again".  So I turn to my secret weapon.  I turn to BBC News.

I didn't know it was my secret weapon until I used it just now.  That's how secret it is.

So, anyway, I decided, after seeing some worrying Facebook statuses, that I would look up the current financial crisis that's happening in the Eurozone, with a side order of "look how well UK is doing in comparison, see?" or something to that effect.  There was a nice little graph that went with it, and according to that, Slovakia still has the highest GDP growth in Europe.  It's higher than Germany.  Germany. With all their big machines, and their precision, and their chocolate and watc- no, wait, that's Switzerland.  I always get the two confused...

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised to see this, since a lot of top management are very ambitious.  I teach English at a couple of firms, and there are a lot of nice cars outside the front door... and I mean like Audi R8s, big Mercs, Jags and the like.  It's good to see, and half of these guys don't even have a degree, it seems.  It's mostly just the will to work long hours and getting on with the job at hand, and of course, having the right connections, which is all part and parcel in this bit of the world.

Swinging lazily from one extreme to another, the other one is bears.

The conservation of bears in Slovakia has really taken off in the High Tatras, according to some charity groups (like Bear Project), and they're now taking interest in the goings-on and the food in the local villages.  I mean, the bears are now taking an interest.  Not the charity groups.  Although both are probably true. Most bears are now going home with new fashion accessories, sporting the latest collars, which was a far cry from the 80's where the latest gadget to have given to you by a human was basically a space shuttle clamped to your forehead.  Wife bears wonder where the heck their husbands have gone to, rummaging through Mrs. Olgarova's rubbish again and coming back to the forest at all hours of the morning.

I'm getting tired.

Good night.