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.

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.
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.
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.
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

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The great chili hunt

IT took all of five minutes after landing on British soil for Jacky to ask the question: “So… where can we buy chilis?”
Shit got serious minutes after.
Now, readers of this blog may well comment on the fact that I/we talk about ‘chili’ a lot. However nothing is more apparent now in our everyday lives than the apparent lack of heat/spice.
I think I felt the same way when I had my Star Wars toys taken away from me as a child after bullying my brother.
Somehow the Tesco ‘mixed chilis’ pack just doesn’t cut it.
Sure you can get jalapenos in a tin, but apparently it’s just not good enough.
And so begins the great chili hunt.
Just days after arriving back in the UK we began trawling the aisles of high-street supermarkets, corner shops, delicatessens, and even farmers markets.
While Jacks let out a yelp of glee at finding chilis, tortillas and other Mexican-related foods at the supermarket, nothing really completely ticks the box.


Further joy

The look of happiness says it all...

'Very hot' chilis

Chili powder - check

'Sweet' tortillas
The ‘guajillo’ chili – to this day, just over a week after arriving back in England – still eludes us.
Any ideas anyone?!
On one instance this past week I caught Jacky watching a YouTube video on how to make a toffee apple… only with tamarindo and chili rather than toffee.
“Mmmmmm… tacos…” Jacks soon after remarked on seeing a friend’s Facebook post and them devouring the dish.
Our circumstances may have changed dramatically, however mi esposa’s love of chili has not.
It’s only when you’ve been away from the UK for a while that you realize just how different our palates are.
Everything in the UK somehow just tastes sweeter.
Food in the US is incredibly unhealthy, notably for its salt/sugar content.
Eating a bag of chips (crisps) you need a glass of water to make it to the bottom.
But here, everything does appear to taste sweeter (which may well be the reason why Americans think that every Brit has ‘bad teeth’).
The look of pure disgust on Jacky’s face when she bit into an El Paso tortilla a couple of days ago said it all really.
She even remarked on how sweet Doritos taste. And she’s right.
Of course some things are always going to be sweet – and they’re admittedly all the better for it.
You can’t go wrong with a large dollop of jam and clotted cream on a scone. Right?

The controversial cream tea
However, in the process of preparing a scone and uploading a picture of the joyous occasion on Facebook, we started somewhat of an age-old debate about the whole ‘cream or jam first’.
Cornish = jam first.
Devonshire = cream first.
I have to say, controversially, I’m firmly in the ‘cream first’ camp.
Jacks is still undecided.
Further joy has been evident in re-discovering our love of crumpets.
Wowzers. If the rest of the world hasn’t cottoned on yet they’re clearly missing a trick.
Seeing your wife’s face light up at the sight of a freshly toasted crumpet is something to behold.
And a traditional roast dinner…? I.n.c.r.e.d.i.b.l.e.
It’s the simple things which make life better. And food makes EVERYTHING better.
Like eating a good Chinese takeaway for instance.
We take it for granted here in the UK but overseas… well, it’s a different story.
Last year, shortly after first arriving in San Diego, I Googled the words ‘good Chinese takeaway San Diego’.
Seconds later a few gazillion results were found. The first on the list… “there are NO good Chinese takeaways in San Diego”.
And boy, Google was right.
With such a high density of Asians in San Diego, it’s bizarre that Chinese food can be SO bad over there.
So yes, food (and the lack of traditional Mexican chili) has been one of the main talking points and features of our return.
The last few days of our time in California has also been the topic of much discussion.
The visa application/notice at work etc seemed to be going so slowly and then – as fate would have it – everything sped up like a runaway train.
Jacks’ visa arrived in the post, and so began the fervent last minute ‘goodbyes’ and subsequent packing.
I have to admit that we actually started packing months ago. At least I did.
When we knew our time was coming to an end in San Diego I set the wheels in motion for our exit.
And, in the process of doing so, I realized a few further differences between here and there.
You see if you want to sell something second-hand in the UK you list it in the back of a newspaper or on a website.
Things generally take a while to sell, and you may never get a phone call - hence my decision to advertise the things we were selling early.
But I have to tell you, that process in the US is COMPLETELY different.
Within seconds of advertising bits on the website, ‘Craigslist’, people begin phoning.
They come round and they begin asking about other bits you have in the apartment – including things that aren’t actually for sale.
And of course, they also generally offer a 100th of the advertised price.
Still, my naivity of this process caught us out.
Try explaining to your wife where the TV/sofa/stools/TV cabinet/desk/and kitchen utensils and appliances have gone… two months before you’re due to move out!
It’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best books for a while…
Still, I stand by my thinking: Clear the apartment so we know what we have left to take to the UK.
As anyone who’s been in the situation will know, condensing and collecting an ENTIRE apartment into a few suitcases is not easy – especially when your wife is Mexican, and she doesn’t know what the climate at the end destination will actually be like.
Girls really don’t get the concept of packing. Clearly.
At one point I had to remind her: “Um, they do have shops in the UK…”
Yes, this comment didn’t get my out of the bad books.
Knowing that we were facing a fairly hefty excess baggage charge, I attempted to ship a few bits back.
Bad idea. Airline excess baggage fees for up to 23kgs = $100.
One small box containing a couple of books and a picture frame = $180+.

Shipping news
Go figure.
Someone’s clearly making a lot of money.
So in the end we managed to bag everything up ready for our departure.
To this day I’m still not sure how we a). acquired so much stuff in so little time; and b). actually fit all that stuff into our suitcases.
Two years ago I arrived with a guitar and a bag of T-shirts and board shorts.
The day we left… five suitcases, a guitar, an iMac, two additional bags and other bits.

Some of our luggage...
The woman at the check-in desk looked ready to have a fit.
I just gave her my credit card, and then very nearly cried.
And fitting everything in my father’s Volkswagen Golf at the other end…? I personally think we broke some sort of record with that feat.
So yes, we’re back. And it’s beautiful. And Jacks is clearly very happy which makes me happy.
Say what you want about the rainfall in the UK but without it, it wouldn’t look so lovely and green.
Now… where did I leave the brolly ('umbrella' to those outside the UK)?

Twitter: @tristan_nichols