Monday, October 12, 2015

The trip is on!

“For a long while- for many years, in fact- he had not thought of how it was before he came to the farm. His memory of those times was like a house where no one lives and where the furniture has rotted away. But tonight it was as if lamps had been lighted through all the gloomy dead rooms. It had begun to happen when he saw Tico Feo coming through the dusk with his splendid guitar. Until that moment he had not been lonesome. Now, recognizing his loneliness, he felt alive. He had not wanted to be alive. To be alive was to remember brown rivers where the fish run, and sunlight on a lady's hair.”  

― Truman Capote, A Diamond Guitar 

After a particularly challenging period in my personal life, I have decided to embark upon a major trip at the end of November. There may well be a few more legs to the experience but currently only the first two are planned. 

On the first leg, I am going to spend a week in the New York area. I am going to meet up with old friends on Long Island and do a couple of poetry readings, as well as see some sights in Manhattan (I've been there before but there is always lots more to do!). I am looking forward to it. 

I am flying up there. I did seriously consider renting a car and driving up to New York. It would have been great to visit friends in North Carolina and Pennsylvania en route, but in the end I decided that the expense and hassle were a little too much for my budget - part of the problem being making the journey during the Thanksgiving period (I've still not got fully used to the American calendar). 

The second leg of the journey will be an Atlantic flight from JFK over to Blighty (that's an affectionate name for England/Britain, if you're not familiar with it!). 

I'm going to spend some time with my family in the English Lake District, hopefully scale at least one mountain (maybe England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike this time? Although that might be a little optimistic in the middle of Winter, I don't know?). 

 I also want to spend time with my brother and his family down on the south coast of England in the Brighton area. It would be great to visit others too, and maybe even go over to continental Europe if my finances allow. 

 I will be heading back to the USA at some point in the new year. 

Things that I have missed about the UK 

 • Friends and family, of course. 

 • Fish and chips with mushy peas. 

• World class Indian food at very low prices. 

• Cheese and onion pasties. 

 • A creamy, foamy pint of real ale in a centuries old pub. 

• The sweeping hills, mountains, lakes, and dales of Cumbria and Yorkshire. 

 • The dry English sense of humour. It sometimes feels like every other person you meet is a quality comedian in the UK, and the perception that life is more than a little absurd is common. Americans in general take life more seriously and the humour can be less subtle. 

Things I will miss about Florida/the USA 

• All my friends here, who have become as important to me as my old friends back in England. 

• The openness, warmth and friendliness of Americans generally. The English, as we all know, are more reserved. 

• The Florida sunshine and beaches. 

 • The exotic wildlife. 

• My tennis exploits and my tennis comrades. 

 • The space. Lots of space in the US. Everything can seem a little cramped in Europe when you return. Driving is a completely different experience, not so much because of the driving on the left hand side thing in the UK, more that everything feels more pushed in, busier, and narrower. 

• Last but not least, the cafe bar at Lucky's Market, my peaceful little port in a stormy world.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Fistful of Cents: British Money vs US Money

One thing that any foreigner has to contend with when moving to another country is the currency.

Back in England, we use pounds and pence (not the Euro, as some Americans seem to believe), but in the USA it is dollars and cents, of course.

After living here for three years, I am at home with the notes, or "bills" as they say here, but (probably to my shame) I can still find the coins a little confusing at times.

US Dollars: Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Bills and Notes

I think the biggest difference in paper money is the preponderance of the dollar bill.  Back in the UK, the lowest paper note has a value of 5 pounds, the equivalent to around $8.50 at the time of writing.  A dollar bill is worth about 60 pence in Brit money.

The British pound note, which was around for most of the twentieth century, disappeared in the late 1980s, mainly because its value had decreased and it was far less durable than a coin equivalent.  The bottom line was that it was deemed too uneconomic to produce by the Bank of England. 

The demise of the pound note caused an uproar at the time in England, in large part because the new pound coins were heavier on the pocket than the old notes and you couldn't carry around large amounts of them easily.

Coming to America felt like going back to the old pound note days.  I have to say that the dollar notes are good in that respect.  They are light on the pocket and slot into the wallet easily, making them user friendly.

Designs and Construction

Both countries' notes are pretty conservative in their design, but the American notes are probably more traditional than British ones, in fact, my research tells me that the images on US notes haven't changed since 1929.

That means that the images reflect older values, there are no women on US notes - neither are there any great American figures from the middle or late twentieth century.

The best thing about US "paper" money, however, is its resilience.  That's because although it looks like paper, it is actually made from cotton.  This effectively means that if you accidentally leave your money in your pocket on a wash day, it can go through the laundry and come out the other side with virtually no sign of damage or wear and tear!

American Quarters, Nickels and Dimes and Pennies
A random handful of US coins


The downside of US money is that there are lots of small and low value coins.  The one cent coin, for instance, is worth barely more than half a pence.  Dropped coins can be found all over the place, because the effort of picking them up is not seen as worth it.

As a Brit, I can find the design of US coins counter-intuitive.  The quarter (25c) is the biggest, next comes the nickel (5c), followed by the dime (10c) - why a nickel is bigger than a dime, I have no idea!  They are all circular with no variation in shape, which doesn't help, although the one cents (pennies) are a different colour.

The long and the short of it is that in practical terms, I tend to avoid counting out the coins whenever possible and stick to using the notes/bills.  That isn't actually all that strange, as many Americans don't use coins much either. 

On more than one occasion, I have received comments about  my (English) wallet, which has a separate little pouch for storing coins.  That is pretty normal where I am from, but apparently a quaint eccentricity for some Americans, who are more likely to store their coins in pockets, or loose in hand bags (or "purses" as they are typically called here!).

Dollar Coins

Despite the bill being the norm, every now and then, you will come across a dollar coin.  These have an emotional, nostalgic value, as "silver dollars" were the norm before paper money in the US and are far less common.

I actually got given an old dollar coin as a gift one time, which was a nice thought.

There is also apparently a two dollar note, which was issued for the bicentennial in 1976, but I have yet to encounter one.

The Future?

In some ways, a comparison of money seems like a moot point in that paper and coins are inevitably giving way to credit and debit cards and other forms of electronic transaction.

Electronic payments, as well as credit and bank cards work a little differently to the UK, the security is a lot slacker, for instance, but I guess that's another story! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rediscovering Cumbria and Yorkshire

After my arduous flight, it was a relief to reach my mother’s house in Kendal, Cumbria.
I was sure that it would seem freezing in the north of England after Florida, but it didn’t seem too bad (although later on, the cold did seem to seep into my bones!).  I also had some winter weather clothing stashed at my mother’s place, which I dug out from the loft – woolly hat, raincoat, fleece, Doc Martyns, walking/running shoes... 

What impressed me most initially was all the Autumnal colors in northern England (Florida doesn’t really have a great deal of seasonal change), as well as the dramatic and attractive Lake District scenery.

I spent the first couple of days acclimatising and indulging in some of the things that are impossible or difficult to do in Florida.  I ate cheese and onion pasties and fish and ships, drank cider, and bought some North of England ale.

After the weekend, I went to a folk music club in Kendal on the Monday night, which was fun, listening to some traditional British and Irish music.

I bumped into an American singer from Nashville whilst I was there.  Rod Picott had just finished a European tour and stopped off for a night in Kendal on his way from Scotland to London, where he was due to catch his flight back to Tennessee. He told me that he wanted to experience some traditional music and this was his first time at a UK folk club

He was a lone American in a room full of Brits.  I am used to being a lone Brit in a crowd of Americans, so I felt a connection.  He was a really nice guy and I would highly recommend his music.

Having found my Blighty feet, I set off on my first major jaunt.

I worked and lived for many years in the Leeds area, so I embarked on a trip over to Yorkshire to see my old friends.  To get there meant driving through the narrow, winding country roads of Cumbria and North Yorkshire (my mother had kindly insured her car for me and offered me its use).  It was great fun and a definite contrast from the broad, straight highways of Florida.

I visited a few old work friends from the time I spent working for Leeds Libraries.

I drank with some old friends in the pub (I do sometimes miss the cosiness of the traditional British pub, living in the US).

I also went for some excellent walks with old friends through the parkland and woods of north Leeds.

Meanwood Park was visited by J R R Tolkein when he lived in the area and some scholars believe that it influenced his vision of Middle Earth that he used when he wrote The Hobbit.

My weekend in Yorkshire seemed to go by too quickly, but it was a great first trip.  

 I headed back to my base in Kendal and made plans to head down to the Brighton area, Sussex (south coast of England) next, and also Edinburgh, Scotland.   

I also drew up some plans for some more forays into Yorkshire and a mountain climb in the English Lake District.  

 My trip was off to a great start.