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.

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

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Traditions, and the war against the cold

Meet 'Teddy'.

This 8-inch-tall furry fellow is my Mexican wife's latest weapon in the war against the British winter.
If having three duvets on the bed at night isn't enough (with Jacks more often than not wearing her down coat to sleep), we now share our space with a cute Teddy covered hot water bottle.

Naked Teddy
And winter has only just begun.
Since arriving from San Diego/Tijuana seven months ago it's fair to say we've invested heavily in combating the onslaught of a traditional British winter.
Jacks has never experienced one before.
This time last year we were preparing our Thanksgiving meal in board shorts and t-shirts whilst contemplating heading to the beach at the weekend.
This time last year Jacks had never heard of 'central heating' or 'hot water bottles'.
This year, right now, we're donning hats and scarves in the house, and seriously contemplating hibernating until the spring.
In the last month my wife has well and truly discovered the joys of shopping – notably in charity shops.
So much so that I'm also contemplating buying a bigger house just to accommodate her new 'wardrobe'.
Jacks arrived here in the UK in May with one thin San Diego-style jacket/coat (i.e. a cardigan).
By my count she now has eight 'proper' coats. Oh, and enough scarves to shake a stick at.
In the last few weeks we've properly experienced some very English traditions as a couple – Bonfire Night being one.
Our friends in Mexico and San Diego have been asking us: "What the hell is going on in those pictures?! "

Bonfire Night on Plymouth Hoe
Simple, that is to someone from these shores.
Guy Fawkes night.
Traditions are weird right? I mean, when you're from a different area of the world experiencing something for the first time.
What one culture thinks is perfectly normal, another finds completely weird – bordering on bonkers.
In Mexico they have the ’Dia De La Muerta’ (’Day of the Dead’) during which dead people’s lives are celebrated.
At first I thought that fairly weird – not least wandering into a Mexican supermarket in downtown Tijuana to be greeted by a full-sized altar complete with skulls and cobwebs.
But after being told what it’s all about (celebrating the lives of those who've passed) it didn’t seem so sinister.
However, you try explaining the tradition of Guy Fawkes night…
"Well, you throw an effigy of a ’man’ (or 'guy') onto a fire, and everyone stands around watching it slowly burn generally while having a good time. "
Cue confused, (almost frightened) look.
"It's a real family occasion," I said now desperately trying to convince Jacks that it's not really that weird.
"People come from all around... thousands in fact. They have fireworks and everything!"

Plenty of 'oohs and ahhhs' going on here...

They even have sparklers!
"Remind me of the story of Bonfire Night," Jacks asked me by now looking more perplexed.
"Well… some guy called Guy Fawkes (who apparently was a bit of bastard), tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in ffuuuussssbvvvvv um… – anyway, the date doesn’t matter.
"They caught him, and they burned him alive, thus creating the reference throwing a 'guy' on the fire."
When you consider it, our tradition is much more sinister-sounding than the 'Dia de la Muerta' right?
So anyway, it's cold here and it's only going to get colder.
I keep asking Jacks if she's still 'happy' here.
She hasn't said 'no' yet so I think I've found a keeper.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Twitter: @tristan_nichols