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.

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

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Winter is coming...

I HAVE thick skin.
At least I do compared to my wife it seems.
I must have.
Do I need to sleep underneath TWO thick winter duvets in the middle of the British summer to fend off the cold??
I do not.
My wife it seems, does.
Over the centuries our British bodies have adjusted to living in the northern part of the world.
So our idea of a 'nice' summer, is not the same as a North American's idea of a 'nice' summer.
For about five minutes in August, when the old Victorian house was so warm that no amount of open windows or doors would shift the heat, Jacks was happy and content.
Even our chili plants were happy (who knew you could REALLY grow chilis here? In Devon??)
This WAS summer.
But this was not actually summer.
This was in fact an anomaly. A climatical mirage if you like.
For the two months gearing up to us moving to the UK I pre-warned her of the "cold, damp, fairly miserable conditions" which she should be prepared for on a "daily" basis - basically "year round".

It became a running joke when we were watching the HBO series 'Game of Thrones'.
When we heard the slogan "winter is coming" I said: "It is... when we move to England".
When we found out we were actually moving back to the 'shire (that's Devonshire – not Hobbit-land) we set about preparing Jacks for nothing she had ever experienced before.
We visited store after store in San Diego trying to find something called a 'coat'.
No luck.
"You need to visit a different state for that... maybe Alaska, or the East coast maybe?" store staff would suggest with a wry smile.
"Why would WE need coats here?!"
Fair one. With a year-round average of 21.5 degrees Celsius in Southern California why would you need a winter coat?
So I prepared my wife for the worst, we jumped on a plane at the tail end of April and what happens…? We experience one of the best summers in years with 'above average' temperatures month after month.
It was so nice and warm and lovely that day after day we were blessed with glorious sunshine.
It got to the stage where we didn't actually need a forecast because everyday seemed to be the same day after day.
Our chili plants re-flowered, every day seemed to be a 'beach day' and people began to smile more (as they only do when its sunny).

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow
Feeling the heat - another of our very happy chili plants

Chili farmer

But then in the space of what seemed to be just a few hours, it appeared to get darker with the nights drawing in; our chili plants half died; I grabbed my brolly (that’s umbrella for you guys outside the UK); and Christmas decorations, treats and adverts began appearing in local stores and on the TV.

The view at Tesco - never one to miss a trick (Sept 9th)

So now the true shock is about to settle in for my Mexican wife.
As the storm clouds gathered over our Plymouth home, I declared: "This IS England".

Incoming... the view over Plymouth Sound

The view a few minutes later...

"When's it going to be warm and sunny again," I can hear her asking in a few days, if not minutes.
Um... 2015... maybe in May...2015?
Yes, you try telling a Latin girl that that's it for a while. Show's over.
The sun is on holiday for a bit.
In San Diego there's a saying that goes: "May grey, June gloom".
That saying doesn't actually mean it's going to rain.
Californians are just weird.
It means it'll be 23 instead of 25. Oh, and it'll be a tad cloudy.
I'm not sure what the saying is here... "summer (usually) shit, autumn (generally) bleak, winter downright evil?"
For the seasoned Brits these seasons are a piece of cake.
Step one: Pack up the board shorts, 90 per cent of t-shirts, flip flops and sunglasses. Oh, and the factor 30 sun block you didn't use.
Step two: Unpack the hoodies, jeans, down jackets and gloves and scarves.
Simple: Change summer wardrobe for winter wardrobe.
As Oscar Wilde wrote: "Wisdom comes with winters".
It goes with the territory.
If there's one way to test the resilience of a wife and all that "for better or for worse" jazz then it's this.
Batten down the hatches sweetheart, I'll introduce you to a seasonal friend we call 'central heating'.

Update - Oct 13th - 7.15pm.
Jacks' first ever experience of central heating. Remarkable.
I think she'll be sleeping here in the hallway tonight.

That warm fuzzy feeling

Follow me on Twitter: @tristan_nichols

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…)
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.


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!


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

Follow me: @tristan_nichols