New Year Resolutions

It’s the start of 2006 and there are going to be some changes.

Over the past couple of months, people have been accusing me of being a miserable git which, to a certain extent, I can agree with. It’s also been requested that I post some pictures of our American life

To that end, I’ve bought some web space and will start to update this site on a more regular basis.

I also promise to be happier 🙂


End-of-year reflections

The year draws to a close and I should summarise our emigration experiences.

Keep a journal. It saves on stamps and you can’t offend easily offend people by not personally keeping them up to date. If people inquire, directly them to the journal. Similarly, be responsible for the increased uptake of Skype and force them to buy a webcam. A journal is a great way of offloading all your frustrations onto everybody else.

Bring money. Lots of it. Pack it all into a suitcase and physically carry it with you. You will need to spend all of it once you are here.
Clear off your credit cards before you arrive. You’ll be needing to use them once you run out of money from your suitcase. Make sure you tell the credit card companies that you will be making a lot of transactions in another country otherwise you’ll be causing a queue in Best Buy.

Don’t expect any favours because you are British. We may have been America’s favourite ally in the war against terror but President Bush’s personal feelings hold no sway over the banks or credit agencies. Remember, you do not exist.

Get a migration agent. Don’t hand-bake your migration. Without informed information, you will be stumbling through six months from one frustration to another. The anecdotal evidence from colleagues is invaluable but remember that most of them either married into America or they migrated years ago so they are happily established. They are watching you with a knowing smile remembering the fun times they had going through everything you are. An understanding employer is a bonus in this situation.

Make sure that you know about US electrics. They use 110v here (which is apparently to stop themselves from being shot to the other side of the room every time they lick a cable to see if it’s live). Before you leave, check everything will work on 110v even if it means you have to buy adapter plugs. 110v is half of 220v which means that the Christmas lights you got shipped at great expense with the rest of your furniture will be pretty dim when plugged into a wall socket. I think we’re currently the only family that is using a step-up transformer just so the tree looks bright.

Book yourself a driving test as soon as possible so that you don’t have to carry your passport as ID. Once you’ve passed your test, buy a car as soon as possible. This helps you to stop haemorrhaging money to car rental firms.

Don’t leave the country until you know that your furniture is due to arrive at your destination. This saves you a trip to IKEA (believe me you’ll thank me for that one) where you will buy the exact duplicate of everything that is currently in the shipping container. Again, saving money is the key although you can probably recoup some of the money by selling most of it on Craigslist. If you don’t sell it, make sure you rent a house with a big garage.

Consumer electronic stores haven’t heard of multi-region DVD players, SCART sockets or the (frankly superior) PAL TV standard. This is important. Your whole collection of Region 2 DVDs is useless if you buy a $36 DVD player from WalMart. You will need to make sure your UK DVD player can handle region 1 disks or order on-line. As SCART is a European standard, it’s not implemented on any US TV or DVD player. It’s also likely that the $999 LCD TV you bought from Best Buy won’t even display a PAL signal so, bring your UK TV but make sure it can display a NTSC signal. Alternatively, buy a plasma screen as soon as you can. This will handle a PAL signal. Be warned that your PlayStation 2 will also not play US-purchased PS2 games without some (slightly-dubious) assistance from various sources. The moral of this story is, nothing works. Quite how we get from this state of affairs to the all-encompassing United Fedaration of Planets in Star Trek, without someone deciding that a single TV/voltage/region standard is required, I do not know.

Consider yourself cut of from the UK. You will find that the BBC will stream video at a lower bit rate, that Radio 5 Live do not have the rights for any of England’s competitive matches to be broadcast ou
tside of the UK and Angel Delight costs $3.59 a packet. Sausages and chocolate are not quite the same but, at least, Rice Krispies Treats taste the same. Before you leave, make sure you have arrangements with colleagues that episodes of Doctor Who will be made available at DVB quality on easily accessible servers. EastEnders is at least 2 years behind. Nobody here has heard of proper mincemeat or Christmas puddings. Quality Street is available but at overly-inflated prices.

Finally, at all times, try to maintain an air of moral superiority. Remember, you are British. There should be no excuse for saying the word tom-ay-to under any circumstances. A biscuit is a biscuit not a cookie. Anybody you encounter should be politely referred to the website

Here’s to 2006.

Financial Home Life Rants

Happy Halloween

October 31st is the time of year where everybody takes leave of their senses, dresses up in various costumes and then goes around the neighbourhood demanding candy with menaces.

Yes, it’s Halloween.

We were invited to a neighbour’s party and we all dressed up. I managed to get a Grim Reaper outfit from somewhere and made my face up to look deathly pale ( no change there you might cry ). At the appointed hour, we all arrived at the door and I found out that it was a kids’ party where most of the parents were in civvies and I looked a right eejit.

Halloween itself was an interesting night. Sam took the girls trick-or-treating with some friends and they all went to the rich part of town where people decorate their houses and distribute big handfuls of candy. The whole city seemed to have descended on one street and, by the sounds of it, it was a real melee.

Rachel and Joanna came back with buckets full of sweets, desperate to eat them all at once. We’re rationing them so they won’t be finished until Christmas 2006.

My evening was such that I wasn’t allowed to sit down on the sofa with a cup of tea without the doorbell ringing and either some cute four year-olds dressed as giraffes or Dracula holding out pumpkin-shaped buckets or a group of teenagers in black eye shadow and lipstick holding out a pillow case. Luckily, we ran out of candy and I had to turn off the porch light. After that, nobody bothered us and I got to drink my tea 🙂

This week, we went to see BofA to talk about a car loan. Last week, we applied to borrow some money for cars because I’m paying a ridiculous amount of money to rent a car monthly. We mistakenly thought that, although the interest rates were not as competitive, the fact that we had an account with the bank, they have a relationship with Barclays in the UK and we spoke directly to the person who set up our account in the first place, it would hold us in good stead.

Not so.

The person who set up our account is the Branch Manager. She has the title Vice President but this means absolutely nothing. She is not able to make lending decisions on her own, she has to refer them to the loans department. The first thing that the loans department did was to credit check us :-S We were rejected because of the usual story, i.e. no credit history. Usual frustrations, usual banging of heads on walls.

I ended up speaking with my CEO. Our CFO has contacts with a credit union and arranged for me to speak to the Branch Manager there. She sounded encouraging saying that lending to overseas visitors is something that they have done before. It’s likely that this means we will part company with BofA so we can bank with the credit union but I’m sure that neither BofA or I will be shedding any tears over that. We have our fingers crossed that we can work this through.

It seems that it’s not just us who are having financial difficulties. The school keeps sending begging letters to the parents for donations of $25 to $40 per child for art material or reading material or to be able to pay for someone to come and read the children stories. The financing of schools is a big topic and Californian schools are not well funded which is why they keep tapping the parents for cash. The problem we have is that the PTA stated that the membership fee ( which equates to $100 per child per family ) is to assist the school for funding certain projects. One such project is called Art In Action where the children get to learn about different art forms. According to the PTA accounts, $8000 has been spent on this project. However, at least in Rachel’s class, the volunteer parents are teaching the lesson. For free. This week, it was Sam’s turn to teach the lesson. She had to explain about cave paintings in Lascaux and discuss the techniques being used. Excuse me ? Sam is well-versed in a multitude of skills but I don’t remember going to her graduation ceremony at Art college. The teacher was sat at the back of the class. How is it possible to spend $8000 if you get someone to teach for free ? I don’t believe that they spent $8000 on wax crayons.

This weekend, it hit home about how far we are from the UK. My best friend got married and we weren’t able to attend. So, a big congratulations to Neil and Carron. We managed to speak with them the day before and the day after and it all went well. We’re just waiting for the pictures of the day.

And in other news, I obtained minor celebrity on the BBC News website at

Home Life Medical Rants

October update

You people are never satisfed. You complain that I don’t update this journal as often as you’d like but when I ask you if you’ve seen my latest update, you admit that you haven’t been reading it that often. Make your minds up.

Any road up, things have been ticking along slowly here apart from the obligatory busy weeks at work.

Sam, according to the medical profession, still has TB. We went to see the director of Disease Control at the local hospital last week to get some information. Both doctors we have see so far have been presenting this as if Sam was a ticking timebomb of TB germs ready to explode at any given moment and infect the whole planet with disease. All because the skin test comes up positive. The X-Ray is clear, the blood results are clear, all her vital signs show that she’s healthy. If she hadn’t have wanted to volunteer at the school, she wouldn’t have had to go through all of the tests and would have gone through the next few decades never even wondering about TB.

According to the medical guidelines, the next step is to put Sam on a 9-month course of drugs called INH. According to the medical guidelines, this drug has been proven to prevent the development of TB in mice (and a few of hundred human subjects). But, the effectiveness of this drug wasn’t tested by taking a skin test before the drugs and then one after. Oh no…the effectiveness was deduced by the fact that none of the test subjects developed TB symptoms after taking the drug. So, Sam will go on the course (did I mention that they have a potentially hepatoxic side-effect ?) and that’s it. No test afterwards. Any skin test will always come up positive because of the BCG. For crying out loud, make the connection. Think about it. We’ve come from a country where the occurrence of TB is considerably lower than, say, Asia where a lot of immigrants into the Bay Area come from. We’ve come from a country where they regularly vaccinate children during their school years with the BCG vaccine. One fact that they keep coming back to is that the skin test came up larger than usual. We put this down to the simple fact that although the test guidelines state that the skin should not be covered with a plaster, the nurse did it anyway. Rachel and Joanna, when they had their tests, were told that they shouldn’t have a plaster.

My brother mailed me the following link from the BBC News website which states that a new study has shown that the BCG vaccine may actually be more effective than previously thought.

The doctor has said that, because Sam doesn’t fit into any of the categories that would normally mean a strong need to go on INH and she is perfectly healthy, he will support us if we decide not to take the medicine.

OK, enough about TB.

As I said, work has been busy. Sam continues to volunteer at the school and has had a bit of a shock about the state of the education system. Both Rachel and Joanna are covering work that they have already done in the UK and we’re starting to get concerned about whether it’s enough to keep Rachel occupied. Joanna’s teacher doesn’t seem to have the time to cover much during the lessons and both Rachel and Joanna’s teachers are in their first year of teaching. It’s not filling us with a great deal of confidence. Still, we’re getting the education system we’ve paid for. In the meantime, Rachel and Joanna are making friends and it’s good to get them into the routine. It’s great that they’ve settled in easily ( as we thought they would ).

A minor note of interest…regular readers of this blog may remember the dancing lady at the Social Security Office. I had the good fortune to see her in our local supermarket the other day. She was harassing one of the assistants about the quality of the watermelons. Again, I avoided all eye contact and backed away slowly.

We went to see Wallace and Gromit last weekend. A good time was had by all. Even the Americans were laughing at it. I found out that the only thing they had to change was the word “marrow” and replace it with the word “melon” because nobody here knows what a marrow is.

This weekend was the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin festival.

Halloween is celebrated big time here. All of a sudden, you’ll find shops festooned with spiders, Freddy Krueger and costumes. We’ve been invited to a fancy dress party. Rachel is going as a vampire, Joanna is going as a pumpkin, Sam is going as a mediaeval serving girl. I’ll probably go as an out-of-luck, depressed support engineer. All the supermarkets have been stocking bags of sweets ready to give to kids who are trick-or-treating. Apparently, the standard practice is that you leave your porch light on if you want visitors. I may be taking the bulb out.

Half Moon Bay is on the coast. There seems to be only three ways to get into the town. The whole of the Bay Area was using them. It took about 90 minutes to go 10 miles.

Along the same road to get into Half Moon Bay, there are a couple of pumpkin farms which have pony rides and celebrations. We stopped there for an hour and played. The girls had a ride on the ponies and we all got a hay ride in the back of some 1950s truck. It was an interesting experience because we were sharing the truck with a Mexican family. It felt like a border crossing but without US Immigration waiting at the other side with rifles.

Finally, an amusing misunderstanding ( based on our accent ) while we were waiting for the pony rides…

There was a lady standing close to the queue but we weren’t sure. “Are you queing ?” we asked.

“I’m not Cuban. I’m Columbian”.

Financial Rants

For the love of …

I tried Cingular again today. Big mistake.

I used their on-line ordering service because I have my eye on the Motorola Razor V3.

It all went swimmingly until I checked on the order this evening ( after giving some time to allow the records to update ). The web site still wasn’t showing that it recognised my order. I phoned Cingular customer service to find that the order has been cancelled because Equifax are advising that I need to pay a $500 deposit in order to set the account up.


Why is it that I can get a landline, electricity, gas, cable TV and high-speed internet with the minimum amount of hassle (and pay the bills on time) but I can’t get a cell phone ?

I’m off to BofA tomorrow to discuss setting up a secured credit card which is specifically designed to build a credit history.

This is becoming tedious.