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.

Friday, 23 August 2013

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world...

THERE can surely be fewer crazier places in the world than the United States of America.
I've come to this conclusion after spending four months living here in San Diego - referred to as 'America's Finest City'.
The people, the politics, the language, the food, the habits, the thinking... it's all a bit strange to me, as an outsider.
Many people would think a Brit moving to the US would find himself right at home, with many things being familiar.
However the reality is that things, although similar, are ever so slightly different.
Of course over here different states can be governed by different rules, much the same way as the different countries in the United Kingdom can be governed differently within the United Kingdom.
But everyday things here in the promised land, are often bizarre and notably surreal through foreign eyes.
The big story here in the last couple of months has surrounded San Diego's Mayor, Bob Filner, or 'Filthy Filner' as he has been seemingly correctly labelled.

Bob Filner AKA 'The Joker'

You literally couldn't have made the story up.
Here goes... two months ago a woman came forward accusing him of sexual harassment.
At least a further 17 came forward over the coming weeks.
Accusations were wide and varied citing touching, forcible kisses and lurid comments.
He reportedly told one woman: "You would do better work if you didn't wear panties".
He reportedly asked another woman: "When are you going to get naked?" Followed by: "Come on and give me a kiss".
All while he held the mayoral office in America's eighth largest city.
Oh, and did I mention that he's 70 years old?!
And one of the accusers is a great-grandmother, and another a retired Navy admiral.
In the midst of all the accusations Filner apologised to his accusers, but denied ever sexually harassing them. His fiancee left him. And she called for him to resign.

Slowly but surely everyone (mostly everyone anyway) called for him to resign. Even the bums on the street - who I still seem to accidentally get into conversations with - echoed the calls through mumbled largely incoherent speech.
So amid these calls for resignation, he organised and hosted a press conference.
The nation's press assembled expecting to hear him say he was stepping down from his high-profile position.

Mayor Filner feeling the pressure

Instead, he apologised for his actions and announced he was planning to undergo two weeks of behavioural therapy at a clinic.
While as you can imagine, that didn't go down too well with the public and officials alike, he then revealed that he expected taxpayers to pay for the counselling.
His argument for San Diego footing the bill was that the city had failed to provide him with compulsory sexual harassment training when he came to office.
This of course resulted in his inability to prevent himself from carrying out the 'Filner dance', and putting one of his female staff in a headlock before making the 'panties' comment.
He also made some egotistical power-hungry claim that the city "needs" him.
Some stories are hard to follow-up. This story, as my editor succinctly described it at the time, was (for a newspaper) the 'gift that keeps on giving'.
And in terms of story content and features, he's right.
Earlier this week, rather than simply standing outside City Hall like every other reporter in town, I hosted a small tea party outside his office, inviting him to join us for a cuppa and a clear-the-air chat.
Of course, he didn't show.

Surprise surprise... a no-show from Filner

It's been the talk of the town for what seems like forever.
All political views aside, it's just unbelievable right?
He resigned today (Friday 23rd August) and, during his resignation speech, accused the media of acting like a 'lynch mob'.
It begs the question... so why resign if you're innocent?
One lawsuit has been filed by one of the accusers. And reports are now surfacing that a criminal investigation is already under way.
People here have asked me... "Would this sort of thing happen in England?"
And it just wouldn't. I think his house would have been burned to the ground long before he entered therapy. The British press - notorious for attacking supposed wrong-doers - would have had a field day tracking his every single move and making his life a walking nightmare.
Anyhow, enough about politics.
Did you know that in most parts of California you can get a note from a specialist doctor which allows you to buy 'medicinal marijuana' legally?
Thought not.

Many a day on my way to work I've walked past a group of relaxed bums in the park staring into space through a herbal haze.
Many a day I've also hoped that the strong-smelling clouds of weed smoke haven't immersed themselves in my work clothes thus leading my boss to question my 'extra-curricular' activities.
If the fact it's legal here in much of California (yes California... not Amsterdam) with a doctor's note isn't bizarre enough, ponder this nugget of information... you can actually call a pot shop and have someone deliver cookies, hash, weed or other variations of the drug to your front door - just like a pizza delivery service.
It has got to be a stoner's dream.
Ding dong (goes the doorbell)... I have an eighth of golden slumber cross hybrid variant for you sir.
An hour later... Ding dong (goes the doorbell again)... Good evening... I have six large pepperoni pizzas with extra cheese, seventeen tubs of chocolate fudge ice cream, and fourteen chocolate brownies.
Oh, meal for one sir?
I'm surprised Cypress Hill, Ziggy Marley and Snoop Dogg (sorry... Lion) haven't moved to town.
California goes 'green'

Having a quick scan online there are literally dozens of shops (actually officially referred to as 'medical marijuana dispensaries') across San Diego county. (My favourite name for a pot-shop-related website has to be 'toke of the town').

A San Diego 'weed map'

Most websites boast actual menus which you can order from, again... much like a takeaway restaurant.
Have crime rates fallen in San Diego because of the relaxation of the law? Who knows.
Apparently the law to allow medical marijuana use in San Diego was passed 17 years ago.
But in a city that's trying its best to help the environment... it seems to be getting a head start in other 'green' ways.
Can't say I've ever been a fan, preferring a pint or two of Guinness over a herbal remedy, but hey... each to their own.
Living in a city of about 3.1 million people (roughly five times the size of my home city of Plymouth in the UK), things are always going to be a bit different.
Crime in a bigger city will always be, well… a bigger deal - especially with the crazy gun laws here in the US.
The mere mention of a ‘gun’ at a crime scene would have resulted in front page news for my old newspaper, The Herald, for a week.
Here, a weapon sighting wouldn’t even feature in the city’s newspaper.
Example… a couple of months ago my cameraman and I were tasked with reporting from the scene of a police chase.
The brief we were given mentioned that a ‘known felon’ had been identified and chased across San Diego by police officers during the night.
The high-speed chase ended when the felon crashed his 4x4 into a wall across the road from a quiet residential area opposite a shopping centre.
When we arrived at the scene a San Diego Police Department (SDPD) spokesman revealed that the felon emerged from the car and began shooting at police officers with a shotgun, peppering the marked police car with shot pellets.
Shortly after, he was shot and killed by officers at the scene.
The true extent of the danger emerged when officers searched his car and found eight ‘pipe bombs’.
Naturally bomb disposal experts were called and the man’s body remained in full public view until after sunrise the next morning.
At that moment I realized once again I was a loooooong way from home.
Here in the US the voices are louder, the burgers are bigger, and the crimes are, well… they’re just crazy.
Further evidence of that? Here’s an edited version of a few story snippets from the last week in San Diego:
a). SDPD says a man shot three times in back showed up at a hospital tonight;
b). Shooting at about 5.40pm at a two-storey motel; a man barged into a room and pistol-whipped another man, gun went off, striking victim in the hand;
c). Woman’s body found behind dumpster at Vista strip mall;
d). Arrest in San Diego in relation to 2005 killing of girl in Tijuana who was thrown from a vehicle with hands and feet bound.
And San Diego is widely regarded as one of the safest cities in the US!
It is indeed a mad, mad, mad, mad world... and here, in the US, it's up there with the craziest.
But you know what? There's never a dull moment in this city.
And, as a journalist, you have got to love it!!!
Who knows what tomorrow will bring...


Saturday, 17 August 2013

De-stressing a wedding

THE DICTIONARY definition of 'marriage' is the 'legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife' (depending of course on the state or country you live in).
What the dictionary fails to mention is all the bits before and in-between which threaten to de-rail your life like a horribly expensive runaway train.
The stress, the chaos, the planning, the intricate delicate flower button holes…
Our take on our wedding – sod a lot of the usual bullsh*t. It’s about us, it’s our turn to be selfish, and to enjoy our moment as we want.
No stress. No bullsh*t. Just smiles.
Yes, by now our plans for the wedding are in full flow.
Date set (Friday 13th September), venue booked, honeymoon paid for.
*cue brief sigh, content expression and placing of feet on foot rest*

And... relax

It’s funny how men and women differ in terms of their mental state for such an occasion.
(And I know full well that female readers of this blog will roll their eyes and consider me a 'typical' male).
But given the unusual nature of how we came together, I feel like any stress on my side leading up to such an event has already been expended.
Quitting the comfortable lifestyle in the UK, moving continents to be with the ‘one’, adapting to life in a Mexican home, spending seven months trying to get the U.S. visa to allow me to accept the TV job, finding and buying the engagement ring, planning the proposal etc etc.
All THAT was stressful.
The wedding for me is a walk in the park!

Stress: Banned

Simply agree and say ‘I do’ with everything that the registrar asks right?
Well, I’m trying not to let it stress me out in any case.
By now I’ve been to, and experienced, enough weddings in my time to understand how NOT to do it.
In this case less is not more in terms of stress.

Not the image we want associated with our wedding!

Wedding ring shopping a few weeks’ back in Tijuana…
Me: “That’s nice, that’ll do.”
First jewellery shop, first ring I looked at. Job done.
Jacky: “What do you think of this one? Or this one? Or this one?! Shall we get them engraved?”
Yes, Jacks is taking the lead on this one.
Whatever she wants, I’m happy with. I’d tattoo my finger, or wrap a lollipop stick around it if that’s what she wants.
Thankfully I’ve not been a part of the search for the wedding dress.
Jacks spent the best part of a month in two different countries, as well as online, searching for THE ‘perfect’ dress.
Of course a month isn't that long given the seriousness of the dress situation.
No stone left unturned. The Holy Grail would have been easier to stumble across I'm sure.
Despite the obvious stress it was causing my future spouse, I couldn’t help but sit back and feel lucky I wasn’t allowed to be part of it.
So now she has the ‘perfect’ dress.
And what does Jacks want to do now? Make ‘adjustments’ to make it even more perfect.
I have no idea what to expect. But suffice to say, she’ll look amazing even if she wore a bin liner.
Note Jacks… this is an expression NOT a suggestion!
It’s her moment to be a princess.
And I’m just happy she’s finally, nearly, happy. Nearly.
My mum has also been going pretty crazy with the idea of it all – among other things designing and making flower button holes, and then skyping me simply to show me.
Note mum, for the record… they look fab.
My brother has also been asking if we should be “co-ordinated” in what the men are wearing.
I may sound pretty nonchalant about everything and it’s fair to say I’m pretty laid back about the ‘big’ day.
I’m organised, I’m determined, and I’m feeling good.
My cameraman joked – to the horror of his girlfriend – that he wouldn’t wear a suit to the occasion. Would I care?! No way! We’re in California man!
You want to rock up in boardies and flip flops - do it!
My mum doesn’t quite see it that way but give it a few days over here and she’ll fit into the groove I’m sure.
I’m just giving myself a big old personal high-five that I’ve found the most amazing girl in the world, and that she wants to publicly state that she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. I mean… ME!
So yes, getting married away from our normal ‘homes’ allows us some amount of freedom and peace.
I mean, we don’t have to go to church; attend marriage guidance classes (that was the scenario if we opted for marriage in Mexico!); organise a huge stag/hen do; or pay for a hundred people we really don’t care that much about to be fed and watered!
Instead we have a simple theme, a lovely setting, with people here who have helped us along the way. And we have more money for the honeymoon.

The setting for our wedding (the building faces the ocean)

It will be stripped back and perfect, allowing us – to a certain degree – to be selfish and let the hectic world revolve around us for a single moment in time.
Our moment is made by us, for us.
San Diego and TJ are, by their very nature, transient places.
So us, as foreigners, getting married here seems to be the perfect set up.
And we can’t wait!
Actually I have to tell you all a pretty funny anecdote from a couple of months ago.
So after deciding to get married downtown at the administration building, we popped down to get our license for the occasion.
While we were sat there most (it seemed) of Southern California’s news networks, presenters and photographers rushed into the office in a frantic rush.
In a bizarre moment of fate the woman registrar dealing with us looked up and asked “are these here for you…?!”
We couldn’t help but laugh.
It turned out, that on that very afternoon, a ban on gay marriage in California had been lifted.
We walked out of the office after getting our license feeling like we were on the red carpet at Cannes with – I’m sure – many of the presenters wondering if I was actually there to book my ‘civil’ wedding to my ‘partner’.
I hope they’re reading this now just to clear up any confusion!
So yes, all systems go…
A month to go and I’m still pinching myself, as is Jacks, that we’re not actually living a dream.
That’s how it feels. A dream, within a dream.
Oh, on a side note can I also just say a quick thank you to all you lovely people who have been reading this blog over the past year.
We’re now well past 10,000 page views in 30+ countries.
It seems ‘Crazy Beautiful Madness In Mexico…’ is really popular in Germany, Russia, Latvia, South Korea, Canada and Hong Kong… as well as Mexico, the UK and the US.
Who’d have thought it! I can't believe it!
Each and every one of you is a part of this magical story.
Thanks for lending me your eyes!
Sending you all much love x