Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in England in mid 2012 to move to Mexico to love a girl.
Simple as that really.
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Crazy beautiful madness

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Finding a cure for homesickness

BUY five chili plants; six tins of chipotle; three or four hot chili sauces; some Mexican candy; six different varieties of tortillas; download some Luis Miguel and Shakira; accept gifts of dried chilis from friends; place a few trinkets and photographs around the house; add a sprinkling of love, and what do you get…?
Some respite from a bout of homesickness.
Admittedly they’re small steps, but I’m trying my best to provide a suitable Latin-tinged home from home for my wife.
How do you cure homesickness? Is there a cure?!
I’ve googled it, mentioned it to friends and pondered their responses, and bought enough Mexican produce to feed a small hungry army.
But still, occasionally – and not so obvious that you’d really notice – I catch a faint glimmer of sadness and longing in my wife’s eyes.
It’s easy to forget that we’re now nearly 5,500 miles away from everyone she knows – and everything she’s ever known.
You can largely replicate some degree of surroundings, materials and possessions, but it will never be quite the same.
Yes, the weather – not least the beautiful summer we’ve been experiencing in the UK – has helped, but overall life is vastly different to life in Tijuana. Obviously.

Plymouth's playground - not too shabby

A few immediate observations from Jacks about life/people in the UK:
a). Most British food tastes ‘sweet’ compare to Mexican cuisine;
b). Girls here have bigger boobs than girls in the US;
c). Girls try to look as brown (tanned) as possible here – mostly forgetting that their orange faces don’t match their white necks or indeed the rest of their pale bodies.
Is my wife happy here in Plymouth? Thankfully so.
She actually now finds herself getting annoyed with people asking if she “likes” it here, before then stating “it won’t last”.
It takes someone else’s view of something you’ve always known to open your eyes to it.
“You have the city, the moors (and of course the ponies), and the sea… right here,” Jacks says almost proudly.
“What more do you need?”
That aside, there are moments when you can’t help but contemplate the sacrifice of love.
Do first impressions last? I do hope so.
Skype, Facebook and email help the world to connect. These of course allow Jacks the opportunity to speak/communicate with her family and friends in Mexico.
But sadly you have to be ‘connected’ to enable you to have that connection.
Sadly most members of her family (including her mum and dad) are not currently in a position to accommodate this.
And this is why I’m asking you… people of the world… do you have any ideas to combat homesickness?
I have to admit – living in Tijuana – had it not been for the close proximity and relative ease of access to the US – and ultimately Western ways – I would have been pulling my hair out if I had spent much longer in Mexico.
A year was truly a long time for me with limited funds, no firm job prospect, no real friends, the temptation to spend what I didn’t have, and the built-in Western desire to want for the latest iPhone or gadget.
I loved the experience, the food, the feeling of comfort and safety within a family, and the home from home, but culturally it was hard (not forgetting the fact that my grasp of the Spanish language was far from ideal).
And now we have the reverse (although Jacks is admittedly coming from what is actually defined as a ‘Third World’ country, to a ‘First World’ country).
We’ve been back in the UK for just over three months now and I think it’s fair to say that while we are settling in, the last two years of experiences haven’t really sunk in yet.
What a whirlwind! Did that all really just happen????
Did we actually live in Tijuana?! Was I actually a TV anchorman in San Diego?! Did we get married?! Did we really have a dinner meeting with John Travolta’s older brother to discuss a Lifetime movie about our bizarre experiences as a couple?? (Yes… that’s for another blog post…)
Wowzers.
Sitting here now in the kitchen of our Victorian home in Plymouth, I’m not sure it ever will really sink in.
Life again, here in the UK is new, exciting and different.
We’re at that stage now where we have to order just about everything on a Chinese takeaway menu so Jacks can ascertain what she does and doesn’t like.
“When you buy Chinese food here does it come with a big chili as a free side order?”
“Not in a millions years sweetheart…”
It’s the same drill with most things. Everything’s the ‘same same but different’.
Yes, you try explaining what 'knickerbocker glory ice cream' really is...


Thankfully Jacks is working now and she’s earning money, thus allowing her to enjoy the finer (*cough*) aspects of English life – like Primark.

'Primarni'

Words simply cannot describe the look on Jacks’ face when she emerged from Primark with a bundle of clothes and shoes so large it near enough took two of us to haul it back to the car.
A visit this weekend to the South Devon Chili Farm also provided plenty of smiles and laughter.


The farm boasts 150 different types of chili – some big, some small, some colourful, most likely violent to a Brit boy’s delicate palate.




And Jacks was beyond happy.

Happy wife = happy life

Chili farm selfie

With another two plants purchased yesterday I’m contemplating either building a home extension to house them, or indeed setting up a farm myself.

Home grown

We currently have 60+ chilis ripening in the kitchen.
My eyes are watering at the prospect.
Jacks’ are widening with glee.
Yes, it’s taken a little whole for me to write a blog update.
No excuses really, we’re just finding our way, settling in and experiencing our new life, continuing to live the dream.
Thanks for reading.
Suggestions welcome people!

Tristan

Oh by the way… the chili plants are called Tatanka, Pachito, Pita, Little Princess and Rainbow if you were wondering… :-)


Follow me: @tristan_nichols



Sunday, 15 June 2014

This is England

“I’VE never seen so much testosterone in one place before,” was Jacky’s response to experiencing an England World Cup game in a Plymouth pub.
As the hours ticked away before kick off last night, I pondered whether Jacky’s first real experience of an English ‘pub’ should coincide with an England game.
Should we watch the game at home, or should we go all out for the ‘experience’ of witnessing raw national pride?
In hindsight, I think we made the right call.
This wasn’t any game… this was the Three Lions’ opening game of the 2014 World Cup.
And it was the perfect opportunity to introduce a Mexican girl to a true English national obsession.

Half-time group selfie at pub

The atmosphere of anticipation; the feeling of togetherness with a bunch of sweaty beer-fuelled strangers; the sense of jubilation at a goal being scored (complete with beer dripping from the ceiling); the fervent cries of "go on my son..." (yes, you try explaining that phrase to a foreigner…); the despair of ultimately losing the game.
This is England.
If there’s one thing that unites communities in England, it’s a game of football.
Seeing the countless flags in the windows of people’s homes and the bunting attached to cars – the pride is everywhere.

National pride

Bonkers about bunting

The entertainment value in the build up to a game is arguably just as enjoyable as the game itself.
We’ve all seen the TV images of those insanely beautiful Brazilian/Colombian/Italian girls in the stands wearing skimpy tops and bright smiles.

Brazil

Portugal

South Korea
Simply beautiful.
However I can tell you, hand on heart, that the ground-level sights in Prince Rock, Plymouth, are an entire universe away from such a visual delight.
As we walked towards the Barbican pub for the game, the stereotypical image of this country’s national pride became apparent.
There, walking straight towards us, were two middle-aged women wearing less clothes than I'd really like to describe.
Tattooed to the nines and beaming with excitement, they were one-part national pride, and one-part public indecency.
I still shudder picturing the scene.
I just couldn't bring myself to take a picture.
Still, it’s part of the fabric of our society right?
And given that the world cup has only just begun, we’d better get used to the sight.

Follow: @tristan_nichols

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Horsing around


AS I introduce my Mexican wife to this strange new land it’s fair to say there have been a number of funny/bizarre/unpredictable (delete as applicable) moments.
Take earlier today for example.
By now regular readers of this blog will know all about my wife’s affection for South West England’s ‘ponies’.
Not a week passes without her asking: “Can we go and see the ponies…?”
Well, today was one of those days.
We were on our way out to see some friends and were passing a place called Yelverton.
Yelverton is a large village really known for a). having a cracking pub in the form of The Rock; and b). not a lot else.
However, on the outskirts of the village’s centre is an old airfield called ‘Yelverton Aerodrome’.
And it’s here where a large group of ponies live and play.
So as we were driving across the aerodrome it seemed only natural for me to pull over to allow my other half to take yet another photograph of yet another of our hairy friends.
It’s fair to say that this moment was THE moment which all other pony encounters will be judged against from now on.
This was the moment that Jacks properly ‘met’ a pony – up close and personal.
There I was winding down the window allowing her to take the best possible picture when said ‘pony’ caught a glimpse of us, and decided to come and say ‘hello’.
Such was his enthusiasm for the meet-and-greet that he practically got into the car, and – in doing so – scared the shit out of Jacks.





He was either after a cookie, or a quick snog… I’m not sure.
As his long tongue lapped at Jacks’ face I can only imagine what he was thinking.
“I should have mentioned that some of them are quite tame…” I said laughing out loud.
So tame in fact that I think he wanted to come home with us.


Cue bizarre moment as we try to get a full-grown Dartmoor pony out of the car so we can make our escape before he gets other mischievous ideas.
She won’t forget that moment for a while. Doubtless neither will he.
Of course that wasn't the first time since we arrived back in the UK that an animal has made Jacks literally jump out of her skin.
She met a white horse. A normally nice white horse at a friend's farm where I spent much of my childhood.
It suddenly raised it's head... and Jacks' face was a picture (one which I'm so frikkin please I caught on camera)...





Fortunately her encounter with a tame lamb working out better...


I'm not sure whether Jacky is getting used to her surroundings, or whether her surrounds are getting used to Jacky.
A couple of weeks ago a quick hike up Sheepstor (Google it) resulted in Jacks gaining an altogether different view of the locally-famous beauty spot - basically from the damp muddy ground up.
Jacks, like most other girls I know seem to always wear the wrong shoes for the wrong occasion.
This footwear mishap resulted in her slipping down the tor rather than climbing down.
Of course that was after she declared the landscape as "precious".

On top of the world



Did she actually fall…?
"Of course not, I was tired from climbing up it..." she said with a smile.
I can’t lie, I also wore the wrong shoes for a trip to the semi-secret bluebell woods in South East Cornwall recently.
There I was taking photographs of the bluebells, trees… and then suddenly the sky, as I went ass over tit.

Bluebell wood

That was after I took these pictures of our playground.







Anyhow, as I introduce Jacks to these spots around here it’s fair to say it’s re-opened my eyes to this part of the world.
Yes, it rains a lot in England.
Big deal if it makes everything so beautiful.
Sure, I miss San Diego. But not as much as some might think.
My wife is teaching me how great ‘Great’ Britain can be.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Money talks

“ARE you trying to come across as a bloody Mexican drug lord?!” an American friend asked the night before we left the US bound for England.
My smug grin quickly turned into a desperate frown.
“Let me get this straight… you’re going to carry nine THOUSAND dollars back in your pocket…?! Flying from San Diego… which is next door to Tijuana – one of the most notorious drug havens in the world…”
Cue friend pretending to put on rubber gloves.
Sometimes good ideas become quite the opposite.
You see, my plan was simple.
To avoid being charged by Bank of America and my English bank for wiring my money back to the UK, I decided to draw it all out and simply carry it back on my person.
With Bank of America charging $35 for every wire transfer of $1,000 (with a $1,000 limit to each transfer) I was facing the possibility of paying over $300 to wire the contents of my US account.
F*ck that for a game of chess.
I’ll just take the money out and carry it, I thought.

Money talks

So this ‘good’ idea was just that… until this particular moment sat around the dinner table for our last supper.
“You like the idea of cavity searches then?” my friend asked with a wry smile.
In hindsight I have to say that after catching three flights, stashing and then re-stashing the cash in various pockets and bags – I wouldn’t do it again.
I’d checked the legal customs limit for the amount of dollars which can be taken into the UK, and I was fine. It was legal and above board.
(Oh, and worth pointing out that the money was our savings fund for a car in San Diego).
But for that 20+ hour return journey I was terrified of the prospect of misplacing the wad of cash, or being jumped in the men’s toilets – or both.
End result… we arrived in the UK complete with cash (although nerves completely shot).
Of course dollars are useless in the UK until they’re converted into British Pounds.
And that was an experience in itself.
I stood in the queue at the busy Santander branch until it was my turn to speak to the bank representative.
With hushed tones I said: “I’d like to deposit some dollars into my account…”
“How much,” the representative asked.
“Um… a lot…” I replied trying to give off hard-man vibes to the people assembled behind me.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to get them changed at a currency exchange and then bring in the pounds to deposit,” she said.
So off we went to Thomas Cook for act two.
“I’d like to change up some dollars,” I said defiantly.
“How much would you like to change,” came the reply.
“Um… (cue hushed voice again) nine thousand dollars please…”
“I’m sorry, nine THOUSAND dollars?” the woman replied.
“Yes, that’s right… well, you always come back with change right?!” I said.
Unfortunately despite my attempt to make light of the situation, I somehow still came across like a money laundering drug baron fresh back from a profitable score.
Her response…?
“I’ll just get my manager”.
To cut a long story short, the manager arrived and bizarrely asked me – somewhat bizarrely – whether I had a ‘figure’ in mind.
“I didn’t realize this was open to negotiation…” I said.
“Just give me the exchange rate…”
So, ultimately I avoided bank wire transfer fees. However, doing it this way I think I lost more money in this transaction that I would have done doing it the other way.
Bastards.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing eh?
Anyhow, for the past couple of weeks since getting back I’ve been busy sorting mine – and Jacky’s – ‘admin’.
You know, all those things which we take for granted once they’re in place.
House insurance, bank accounts, phone contracts, health cover, DVLA (driving) documentation, blah blah blah.
Most of it has been fairly straight forward, but there have been one or two annoying discoveries along the way… car insurance for example.
Did you know that if you’ve been out of the country for two years or more, most (and I mean MOST) car insurers automatically wipe your No Claims Bonus (NCB).
Before I left the UK two years ago I had built up in excess of five years NCB.
So when I bought my new car 10 days ago I thought I would – at least – have those five years’ bonus, plus arguing rights over the past two years when I’ve been overseas.
With no insurance claims in the US or Mexico in that time I thought I had a chance of adding those years to my previously accrued five years.
Wrong.
It was only after finding and agreeing a good insurance quote online that my chosen insurer – esure – told me that a). not only do they effectively wipe No Claims Bonus years if you’ve been away for two years or more; b). they also then don’t insure a driver who has zero years No Claims Bonus.
Great.
It doesn’t matter if those NCB years are protected or not, they’re deemed ‘invalid’.
After a lengthy search, again online, I found that Admiral do recognize the previous NCB years, however, they knock a year off that amount for every two years you’ve sent away.
Not the best, but not the worst.
In 12 months’ time, if I decide to switch to a different insurer, I’m guessing I’ll be having the same argument.
It seems that it doesn’t matter who or what you are, insurance companies and banks have you by the balls and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Still, I guess ultimately it’s a small price to pay for happiness.
It’ll take more than this to wipe the smiles off our sun-tanned faces.

Twitter: @tristan_nichols