Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Uh-oh, my wife discovered eBay...

“ARE you ready…?” I ask for like the twenty-seventh time as we slowly head towards the door.
“Nearly, veeerrry nearly…” Jacks replies.
“Just wait 21, 20, no… 19 seconds…”
“YES!” Cue Jacks punching air in triumphant fashion.
“I won!!!”
Yep, that was the moment last month when I inadvertently discovered my wife had firmly discovered eBay.
Dear lord.
The next week-and-a-half was a standout time in the Nichols casa in the 16 months since we moved to England.
You see, I now know that pairs of women’s knee-high boots, chunky warm jumpers and most long ‘dressy’ dresses just won’t fit through most front door letter box.
I know this for a fact.
And I know because every day for what seemed like an age I came home from work to find one, two, three… maybe five… Royal Mail ‘sorry we missed you’ cards posted through the door.
Some of these cards even mentioned the fact that ‘5’ items are “waiting for you”.

You've got (a lot of) mail

It took maybe a week for me to determine the extent of my wife’s new found love of eBay.
And by that time we’d already been to the Royal Mail sorting office five or six times to pick up the various items of post. 
At one point the beleaguered-looking chap behind the counter stated that Jacks had set a “new record” with 36 items ready to pick up in one hit. I nearly had to rent a van.

Parcel force

You see, as I found in Mexico, it’s not easy to order something for delivery like that.
Tijuana didn’t - to my knowledge - boast a reliable Royal Mail equivalent. And then I was told things often go missing.
The alternative is to get something delivered to a friend across the border in the States who can then re-deliver. But of course it’s a ball-ache just for you to get your post.
So yes, as Jacks settles properly into English life, with its penchant for consumerism, I guess it was only a matter of time before one (wo)man’s junk became her treasure.
I’m as much to blame as anyone having amounted quite a sizeable collection of G1 Transformers toys during a nostalgic phase I went through, plus an absolute boat-load of All Saints gear.
Boy do we need a bigger house.
So I mentioned before that I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front.
You see, when you’re living in a different country with different culture, food and people, it’s easy to feel inspired.
When you come back to everything you know it’s difficult to create that same level of creative spark.
Jacks and I have discussed switching up the blog so we shine a light on her English experiences but we’re not quite there yet… 16 months down the line.
So instead I guess it’s up to me to pick out the amusing bits of life here in England as we experience new things for the first time.
Like the time a couple of months ago when we went to see Jacks’ beloved ponies on Dartmoor – and how we go one stuck in the car.

I guess it’s also worth mentioning that the summer is now pretty much ‘over’ in England – aside from some miracle occurrence.
Did we see 30 degrees in Plymouth? Did we f*ck.
Did Jacks actually feel warm at all this summer? Nope.
This is pretty summer defined in Plymouth (and indeed the UK as a whole): 

We did buy a frikkin 14ft-long sea kayak though (ahem... as a tool to make us make the most of the outdoors regardless of the weather...)

Oh, readers interested in hearing how our chili crop is going this year will be pleased to see that our jalapenos are finally producing! And there’s more to come.

From this...

To this!


Right, we’re off to explore and find inspiration!
Greetings peeps! Play nice ;-) x


Monday, 13 April 2015

A taxing situation...

IN A FEW weeks I might well be flying over to San Diego.
No, not for a holiday – but to file my taxes.
‘Are you loco?’ I can hear you asking now.
Well, what else do you do to prevent yourself breaking the law?
My thinking is that it will hopefully prevent me from becoming an ‘enemy of the states (aka ‘United States’).
My attempts to resolve the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever known has resulted in this – me seriously contemplating spending £800+ just to receive a maximum of £400 back from the US Government.
 “You have a legal obligation to file your taxes,” one cock-sure-of-himself London-based ‘tax professional’ mentioned to me last week.
“Sure, and I’m pretty sure stealing from an individual is also a crime,” I replied.

That was after he suggested I pay HIM £750 for filing a State tax return – which cost me around £75 to complete last year in San Diego.
Yeh, you do the math buddy and tell me who’s the crook here…?
This whole situation has come about after I spent 12 months working in the great US of A between 2013 and 2014.
When I began working in San Diego, California, I decided to pay the maximum amount of tax possible.
The thinking – at the time – was that the more I paid, the more I’d get back at the end of the financial year in the tax return.
A sort of ‘well done me’ for saving money, I considered.
Yes, on reflection now, it’s not the advice I should have taken at the time.
In short the US Government owes me roughly $4,000 (£2,500).
And it seems it won’t give it back lightly.
If someone, or some organization, owes you money, you ask for it back.
And therein lies the problem.
I’m now in the UK trying to ask for the money back using the Inland Revenue Service or ‘IRS’ medium of a ‘tax return’.
The snag is that the US Government makes it so difficult to file said return, you end up fast losing your mind trying to do so.
Somehow I managed to use a piece of free software to file the ‘federal’ return.
Did I do it right? God knows.
I just have to wait until the IRS – (fingers crossed) writes me a letter or emails me otherwise.
Another annoyance right now is whether I file for an ‘extension of time’.
I’ve already filed the federal tax return, but what if it’s wrong? If I don’t get an extension do I lose out?! Will people get confused if I apply for an extension when I’ve already filed the return?
The hilarity in all this is the ridiculous use of the English language by the IRS.
The form is referred to as an ‘Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return’.
Surely if it was ‘automatic’ you wouldn’t need to apply for it in the first place…?!
Anyhow, I digress.
So yes, the ‘federal’ return is in the post ahead of the April 15th deadline.

And that leaves me to file the ‘State’ tax return – the California state tax return.
Put simply, the State return is only a couple of pages to fill out. The problem is that I don’t actually know how to fill it in.
It’s in American-English, which to you and I in the UK is otherwise known as ‘gibberish’ or ‘gobble-dee-gook’.
‘Name and address…’ sure.
‘California adjustments – subtractions. Enter the amount from Schedule CA (540NR), line 37, column B…’ um, que?
Someone who knows what they’re doing would take the official tax documents sent to me from the State, enter a few figures, and bang three minutes later all done.
But of course, it’s not as easy as that is it? It never is.
The firm I used in the US last year to file, can’t file if I now live overseas.
And the State of California won’t let me even register on its website to file them online direct, again because I live overseas.
Thank you for visiting the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) website.
A nonresident is currently unable to use CalFile to file a California income tax return,” Alisha on Station 2115 handily emailed me.
In fact, the software which I used to file my federal return can’t file my State return because it requires me to have a US bank account, and a US bank card.
When I left the States I closed my account because I refused to pay a monthly fee for something which I’d use once in 12 months.
Oh wait, the best part…? Some ‘tax professional’ in London quoted me £750 to file the State return – even though I’ll only get back a maximum of £400.
“But you do realize you have a legal obligation…”
Oh do fuck off.
Trying to work out how to do all this incenses me so much I’ve been physically shaking with anger at times in the last six weeks.

How can people actually get away with this? How can this be right?
If it’s a criminal act to not pay your taxes surely it’s also a criminal act to harass and threaten a law-abiding taxpayer with legal consequences even when they’re trying to do the right thing.
A colleague asked me today why I’d even bother writing a blog post about all this.
“Does anyone really care?” they asked.
Well for a start, I care.
Writing this actually helps me to put this crazy situation into some perspective.
It also reassures me that the people I’m dealing with really are a bunch of numpties.
Also I’m pretty sure that somewhere down the line, this blog post will find some tired eyes looking for a distant light at the end of the black hole that is the US tax system.
If it helps them, even slightly, then this public outpouring of frustration will have all been worth it.
I’ve asked for help from supposed ‘friends’ in the US, but aside from offering up the ‘but your tax return is so easy to file…’ pearls of wisdom, they’re about as useful as a chocolate fireguard.
What do people say…? The question’s easy if you know the answer.
Well, I’m lost.
Anyone got any ideas/suggestions/ibuprofen?

Twitter: @tristan_nichols

Monday, 22 December 2014

Oh, no it isn’t… oh, yes it is - the panto!

OH, NO it isnt… oh, yes it is.
It’s a blog about the annual British pantomime – or panto for short.
This past weekend saw my Mexican wife’s latest induction to her new life in England.
For those of you in the US and overseas, the dictionary definition of pantomime is this: a theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.
After sitting through the hour-and-a-half performance at Plymouths Theatre Royal, Jackys definition of a pantomime is simply this: ‘It’s crazy.
The Christmas panto is a British tradition. It’s as British as you can get – and its roots reportedly go all the way back to the 16th century.

Men dress up as women, women dress up as men, they sing songs, tell rude jokes and just have a laugh.
It’s bonkers, bizarre and quite brilliant in its silliness.

I hadn’t been to the panto since my mum won tickets in a newspaper competition when I was about seven or eight.
And boy did I NOT notice the sexual innuendos back then.
The kids love the audience participation, and the colour and ridiculousness of it all – not least the songs and chorus of ‘he’s behind you… oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is…’ lines.
The adults love the clever (but silly) jokes, the double entendres, the forgotten lines and mistakes, and the occasional glances from the stars referencing how ridiculous it all is.
I couldn’t help but glance over at Jacks throughout the whole ordeal, sorry show, to check that she wasn’t horrified by what she was seeing.
The expressions on her face spoke volumes of her enjoyment of the show.

Panto selfie

Huge credit has got to go to the entertainer (and true star of the show) Bobby Davro who – on greeting the audience and revealing how happy he was to be back in Plymouth, went on to he’s the only entertainer of his age left who isn’t in prison” (referencing the ongoing sexual abuse scandals rocking the British entertainment industry).
Fair point.
And if the panto itself wasn’t crazy enough, the annual panto after show party made for a pretty wild night.

Here, on the top floor of the venue, saw a mix of panto stars and theatre employees, footballers, journalists and city businessmen – with a large shot of something very alcoholic.
“Youre hungover…?” friends asked us the morning after the show with a look of equal part disbelief and horror.
“You went to a kids pantomime and got drunk?!”
“Have you been to a panto recently…? Wow…” I smirked.
Times have changed…
A journalist colleague of mine told me recently that one year one of the previous stars of the Plymouth panto asked if he could do his interview lying down”.
The interview just so happened to take place the morning after the panto party.
Anyhow, watching the Christmas pantomime is another tick on the list.
Now were set for our first Christmas together in the UK.
Oh, yes it is… its CHRISTMAS!
Merry Christmas everyone!

Twitter: @tristan_nichols