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First Week

Hello, Friends.

Has it really only been one week -- seven actual days -- since I was released from COVID self-isolation? Well, I guess it's true what they say about travel and relocation forcing you to live your life consciously, rather than drifting along in the "same old, same old." Nothing has been auto-pilot about this adventure yet!

It's hard to know where to start. And I feel like I'd love to tell the full story on each and every aspect of the process thus far. But, to be honest, I'm not even sure I remember half of what has happened, because it seems every day there's some new thing showing up and demanding my attention.

I will say that my concerns about how on earth was I ever going to sit inside a dumpy flat for fourteen days, waiting for my self-isolation period to pass, ... well, those concerns were unfounded to say the least. It's hard to know if I just didn't prepare well enough in advance, or if this sort of thing happens to everyone, but I'll be honest -- it was really difficult. It's STILL really difficult! And yes, of course, it's all relative. I'm hardly fleeing a war-torn country with only the clothes on my back. I'm not comparing my circumstance to asylum-seekers and other humans in a refugee circumstance. The obstacles I'm encountering are of a different, more privileged ilk, I'll be the first to admit it. But they're still obstacles, and still difficult, in their own way.

I guess maybe I didn't expect so many things to be as different as they have been. The US and UK, not so different, right? .... Right?? ... Ummm....

I'm sure there's a cultural component I haven't even really discovered yet, being so wrapped up in logistics, but so far it seems like it's mostly government bureaucracy and individual businesses each having their own rigid rules. The whole thing ends up becoming a big circular sort of mess, hard to tease apart or know how to fix.

An example: Buying a car. So, it seems easy, right? All these commercials of people looking at cars online, clicking on one the same way you'd add a bag of dog treats to your shopping cart on Amazon. Next thing you know, a car is dropped off in their driveway, as the smiling couple waves goodbye to the smiling delivery driver. Everybody is smiling! How simple! -- Except it's not. First off, in the UK, there's a legally required annual vehicle inspection called an MOT which details various problems with the car. It's illegal to drive without one. But sometimes a car dealership won't get the MOT done until the car has been sold. So how do you even know if that car is "healthy" without a current MOT? And while most of the online car shops deliver, some only do so for a fee, and not a small fee, either. Also it's illegal to drive without insurance, only you can't get insurance until you indicate which car you're going to purchase. And not everyone will insure a driver without a UK driver's license. So, yes, you're allowed to drive on an international driver's license for up to twelve months, but you may not be able to get insured -- and of course even if you can, it costs extra. Of course. So how do you get a UK driver's license? Well, that's easy, too -- you just log on to the UK government website and enter your information.... But wait! You can't proceed if you don't have a UK telephone number! "Invalid format" .... And not at all if you haven't yet lived in the UK for 185 days ... except for all those people in your Facebook group who got around it, it was easy, "I don't know, I just did it".... Infuriating.

... I just have to interrupt myself, to tell this other part of the story which has been underlying my process since the very beginning: my address doesn't exist. I know I alluded to this in an earlier post, but as it's an ongoing and constant source of frustration, it's worth mentioning again. You see, in the UK, you find an address by starting with the postal code -- sorta like a zip code but a combination of letters and numbers which really narrows down the search area. So NP7 5HL has only about six houses in it. And when you key in "NP7 5HL," the computer helpfully suggests: "Do you mean: 1 Cherry Lane, 3 Cherry Lane, Highland House [Yes, houses have names here, more often than numbers, it seems], or White Stag?" Well, I don't live at any of those places. So some websites will let you manually enter your own address: "Dingy Flat with No Hot Water [More about that another time] Above Veterinary Clinic" -- but some will not. Today it happened again that a website booted me off because I live somewhere that never crossed the web-designer's mind, or the Royal Mail can't be bothered to update their website.

... So where was I? Ah, right: buying a car. Have I talked about road tax yet? No? Well, that's another fee. I think there are ways to decrease the tax, like choosing an electric car, or one that's really really lightweight, but I can't really be bothered to research all of that when I am just trying to get through an online form with my US telephone number.

My father used to tell a joke about a woman running to catch a train, arriving huffing and puffing just as it's pulling out of the station. Out of breath, she stands panting on the platform and says, "Well, I guess I didn't run fast enough..." and the guy sweeping the platform says, "Lady, you ran fast enough, you just didn't run SOON enough!" And that's what this has been like, a little bit, in my more self-recriminating moments. Why didn't I look into some of this sooner? Well, for one thing, I wasn't even sure I was going to go -- or be able to go -- until the last minute. All the troubles with COVID and airplane flights and the dogs' transport and at least a half dozen other variables -- not the least of which included my own fear and indecision -- were constantly shifting sands. I felt like Lara Croft in some video game navigating an abyss by jumping across a platform of tiles that completely rearrange themselves every few seconds. So you either jump or get stuck where you are, indefinitely. I jumped. But I'd forgotten to stitch some of the holes in my parachute.

And I think I'm still falling. I might continue to fall for a very long time yet. There are still some really big important things I haven't even started on, like getting set up in a house of my own. And that leads to utilities and lawnmowers and internet and ... Another treat: Many rental properties in the UK don't come with appliances. That's right, you rent a flat and have to provide your own stove and refrigerator, washing machine, microwave oven.... The place I'm looking at this week contractually prohibits the renter (that'd be me) from having a clothes dryer. Because most UK houses don't dry their clothes in a "tumble dryer" but instead on a drying rack, sometimes (the fancy kind!) with heated air. Sometimes I think the Brits just enjoy suffering, as if their years spent in austerity created a certain taste for it. But that's a topic for another time.

For now, I'm continuing to focus on remaining positive. Trying not to compare ("well that's not how the US does it!") or complain ... too much. This was a thing I've wanted to do for a very long time, and now I'm doing it. Did I really think it would be easy? -- Y'know, I think I sorta did. -- It's not. But maybe it's worth it, anyway. I hope I can stick it out long enough to find out.


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