Final Thoughts & Comments
After having been back home in Washington State for several weeks now, I have been having many differing thoughts on our recent experience back in the UK.
When we first arrived in LONDON HEATHROW, everything was fairly easy for us with me knowing most of the basic fundamentals of the British way of life. I fit right in as if I’d never been away. Betty was amazed how easy it was to sort things out and get going quite quickly. It was really nothing more than I expected of myself.
We came across quite a few “objections to our life style” – for want of a better phrase. The first one being the stick-shift car we opted for. It was a Ford Puma with 6 forward gears. When I first sat in it and started it up, I was not really too happy with it mainly because of the gearbox and shifting. Sure, I had been in the USA for 25 years or so driving mainly automatics and doing OK.
One might think that all of a sudden jumping into a stick-shift would cause me problems. I know it would cause a lot of problems for most American drivers, what with having to cope with sitting on the right and driving on the left and maneuvering a series of roundabout every 10 minutes – well it does seem like that at times. However, my driving experience has been stick shift mostly since the age if 17. Driving long-distance trucks all over England, Wales and Scotland for over 22 years and being away from home 4 nights a week, and ALL WITH A STICK-SHIFT should have given me a decent grounding in that mode. And it did. I have made multiple driving trips into France, Germany and other similar places with a right hand drive car driving on the right side of the road, and then throw in towing a trailer behind as well. To be honest, it was a piece of cake and I never ever had a problem.
Then Avis comes out with this bloody Ford Puma with its fancy electrics. To be honest, I noticed something was not quite right as soon as we started driving it. Can’t put my finger on it, but it was not quite right. I should have immediately turned around and demanded an automatic instead. But I thought I would grow into it and all would be OK. So we carried on with it, much to my chagrin at times. When I think back now about our travels in the UK, we might well have had a happier time if the car had been better. But we got on with it… stuff upper lip and all that Brit stuff.
Getting used to the financial side of things was an eye opener too. Nearly every place we went into and made a purchase thrust a “tap and pay machine” in front of us and we tapped the credit card and paid and left before you could read even the credit card in the USA. The credit card never left my hands. Very rarely did I part with my card. In fact, I don’t think I ever did. I was nearly all tap and pay. Sadly, the USA is light-years behind Europe in these things. Virtually everything is digital over there and so, so fast and reliable too. Went over the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Drive up to the barrier, tap and pay and drive on – 5 seconds flat. The hotels are just the same… hotels don’t even take cash anymore. Can you believe that? Nobody needs to carry cash anymore over there. I was pleasantly surprised at the UK being so far advanced with the rest of Europe.
Another thing we noticed was the efficiency of some of the staff in the businesses over there. I am talking about hotels, restaurants, pubs, and other suchlike places. Especially some of the younger staff. And especially the girls. They are so efficient and knowledgeable it is amazing. There are stores and hotels with three or four staff aged in their mid 20s and the place is running like clockwork. Kudos to them.
Gas stations… well over here in the USA we are faced with four choices going into a gas station. Regular, Premium, Super Duper, and Diesel. Over in the UK, you get two choices… petrol or diesel… take it or leave it. Apparently the petrol grade is suitable for nearly all engines over there so there is no messing about with choices. Gas up and go. No cards at the pumps. Walk in the shop, tap and pay and gone in 20 seconds.
The only thing I would complain about is the rate of inflation over there. Stuff has gone up so much over the years. The restaurants were not too bad and when you are on vacation you tend not to spoil it by price-checking all the time. My memory banks though do know the prices things USED TO BE and always seem to bring it up for me to chew on. But my wife has conditioned me to suck it up and pay and move on with your life. You will have forgotten about it 15 minutes later. Good advice!
They did seem to charge an arm and a leg as entrance to most places. Sometimes I thought they were trying to get my first-born child as well. I wonder if wages and salaries have increased as much? If not, however can a young family manage in today’s world – UK and USA both.
The only other thing I would comment on is the damn and blasted Speed Cameras.
The only other thing I would comment on is the damn and blasted Speed Cameras. Really folks. Really. If you have been reading my reports over the last few weeks, you will have seen my frequent comments about the speed camera. They are EVERYWHERE and I mean everywhere. If you are driving along the road and see a flash, it is too late. They GOTCHA. Really. I got done one time only and that was in Norfolk on the East Coast. And that was the only time. My wife commented that we should count ourselves lucky the way I drive sometimes. Our first notice of this was on the M4 Motorway heading out of London on the first day. Bombing along all doing 70mph with everyone else. Saw a 50mph signal and BOOM we were out on our own. What the hell happened? They all slowed down when told to. Not me, I just sailed on into the sunset… well, we were heading west. Everybody KNEW that these cameras will get you and you have no defense. Now everyone just takes notice and slows down. I was very quick to learn. In our case in Norfolk, we were just entering a 30mph zone – FLASH. Too late they got me. I was doing 35mph slowing down. 35 in a 30 dammit. I managed to get hold of someone in the fines department and they explained they give a leeway of 10% PLUS 2. So 30 x 10% is 33 plus 2 in 35. GOTCHA. Cost me $100 which I paid online.
All in all it was a nice vacation and my wife enjoyed it, especially the food and the easy way of doing things. When I last visited the UK it was in 1999 – just three years after I had left there. So going back after just three years I didn’t notice too much difference in the culture. But this time, it has been about 23 years since going back and the gap was substantial. I hardly recognized some things. Most things had changed especially the roads. It was all different… like chalk and the proverbial cheese really. Roads had gone, new ones sprouted up, by-passes had been built and a lot of the English quaintness had disappeared. The Costswolds were nothing like I remembered them. The towns and cities were about the same, but the roads, and the shops were all different. Even my favorite store Marks and Spencer had changed. They way I remembered their stores was everything was lined up in lovely open-top show cases, everything neat and tidy, and all in rows and colors and sizes. Not anymore. We went into one of their flag-ship stores in Edinburgh Princes Street. It was all different. It looked more like a free-for-all in there. You had to look hard for everything, then hunt for color and size, etc. It was so much different than before and from what I remembered.
When I reflect back on things I was a little disappointed at some of the things… like roads and town centers and quaint villages. They had all changed and development had taken place – and quite rightly. It was probably a little naive of me to expect everything to remain the same. But life has to go on and further development takes place. We cannot expect the world to stand still while we look at it. The one little place that did stay the same and hasn’t changed was my birthplace alongside a little church in a hamlet called Bethlehem in West Wales. That still brought the warm fuzzies back to me. It was probably the last time I’ll see it. Our visit certainly brought me back down to earth and into the real world again. Life goes on!
As I age now, I am unlikely to go back again to the UK. There are places like Hawaii and Mexico and Las Vegas that are all reasonably close – especially Mexico which is only a 4 hour flight from Seattle.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about my exploits in the United Kingdom (and the USA to some degree). I know that a lot of Americans would really like to visit Britain but are a little worried about driving on the left and sitting on the right, but after a day or so, you’ll easily get the hang of it. Really, you will! And the best advice I can give you is KEEP OUT OF LONDON. It’s a beautiful and wonderful city but there are other terrific places that’ll match a lot of it. If you really want to see London, turn left at Heathrow and go west to somewhere like Reading or Swindon. They are both on the mainline to Paddington Station and will get you there in under an hour – stress free and ready to go.
If you would like to write to me or ask any questions, you can reach me by email.
Thanks for reading.
This has been the final post in a 20-part series highlighting the trip of a British ex-pat in the US when he returns to the UK for a vacation 23 years after moving to the US. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have, and seeing the areas he (and his lovely wife) visit, through my friend David’s eyes. ~ Sherry
David invites you to visit his eBay store while you’re in the neighborhood!
Need to catch up on David’s story? Day 1 ~ Day 2 ~ Day 3 ~ Day 4 ~ Day 5 ~ Day 6 ~ Day 7 ~ Day 8 ~ Day 9 ~ Day 10 ~ Day 11 ~ Day 12 ~ Day 14 ~ Day 15 ~ Day 16 ~ Day 17 ~ Day 18 ~ Day 19 ~ Day 20