England vs United Kingdom

 Posted by at 13:29 on 8 August 2015
Aug 082015
 
From Google Maps

From Google Maps

Early in my time in England, I read this brilliant book, Watching the English by Kate Fox, an anthropology text. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the English. Working through what she was saying also made me realize a lot about my native cultures that I’d just absorbed naturally (as you do) without bringing into relief, so it was actually really helpful for me in many ways. I’d love to find similar works on other cultures.

Between that book and other sources, I quickly learned the difference between England, Britain, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. As time went by, I realized that not everyone – not just my American friends and family, but also some born and bred here – knows these differences. Today I found a brilliant video explaining it, so I thought I’d share:

Organs and Royal Carriages

 Posted by at 14:43 on 28 May 2015
May 282015
 

I love music – lots of different kinds of music. One thing that’s been on my to-do list for absolutely ages was to go see and hear an organ being played. The organs here – they’re MASSIVE. They’re built into the buildings. I’ve never seen anything like them. We must have some like them in America, somewhere, because some of the organists are American, but we don’t have them in little ol Bossier City, even though it’s the heart of the Bible belt.

Bridgewater Hall organ pipes

Bridgewater Hall organ pipes

The pipes are stunning enough to look at – always such a centerpiece to any building they’re in. These are in the Bridgewater Hall – Manchester’s premier concert venue for acoustics. There are 5,500 pipes there.

Bridgewater Hall organ console

Bridgewater Hall organ console

However, anytime I see the console (controller) for the organ, I just stand there, mouth agape, wondering how on Earth one person manages to control all that.

Finally, I found a concert I could get to – Bridgewater Hall put on a series, and I could get to one, called Dancing Feet. Last week, I went. Boy, what an appropriate title! His feet did move across the foot keyboard so much – and his hands across the four other keyboards – and THE SOUND coming out of that thing was unreal; it was like an entire orchestra!!!

Well, I was gobsmacked; absolutely blown away. Jonathan Scott, the organist, has a number of videos on YouTube. Here’s one (at the Bridgewater, no less!) for a taster:

Wowza.

So, while I’m figuring out what I’d like to do when I visit London next week, I came across an organ recital. Oh, right. The timing was a bit tight for my garden party, but – not knowing anything about where things are (after all, that’s what maps are for) – I was vaguely hopeful that perhaps the chapel was perhaps very near Buckingham Palace, so I could do both.

St George’s Chapel is the chapel attached to Windsor Castle, so I duly went to Google Maps and typed in directions from Windsor Castle to Buckingham Castle, as you do. I clicked on the public transport option, of course.

RoyalCarraigeMap

And what option should appear, but “Take the Royal Carriage!” As you do!

“Oy, Queeny, can I blag a lift?” ;-P

Told this to a friend of mine today, after showing her the HAT I’d found (yes! I found one! they’ll let me in! phew!), and she reckoned that with that hat I’d be alright, actually. After she left, I found a picture of the new royal carriage:

RoyalCarraige

The hat might pass inspection, but I’m less sure about my dress, up against that contraption of gold leaf!

Danger Pay: No, I Can’t Vote, Since You Asked

 Posted by at 13:23 on 30 April 2015
Apr 302015
 

I answered the phone recently to a local number, and found someone from the Labour party (oh yeah, we’re in the midst of an election).

He seemed so surprised to find someone actually answering the phone; he was flummoxed for a moment, but got out words to tell me who he was, and that he had a “Mr Chris” at this number – has that changed?

“Nope,” I declared. “He’s the one who can vote – but you can change that!”

He was a bit thrown, of course, and latched onto the only thing he could think to do: “Is that – are you American?”

It’s funny; sometimes people here in my town can’t place whether my accent’s American or Canadian. Given the words I’d spoken, however, it was much clearer. “Yes,” said I. I them explained how massively unfair it is that other people at my stage of immigration can vote, but not me, and how he should change that.

He said he’d look into it.

“You don’t have to look into it, I’ll tell you all about it!” I cheerily chirped. “The UK has treaties with the EU and the Commonwealth, so people from those places can vote once they get Indefinite Leave to Remain, but people from anywhere else in the world can’t! I can live here for the rest of my life – til I’m 100 or whatever – ” (I realized later on that I should have added here: “I can get a card from the Queen, who I’m sure will still be alive then”) – “and I can never vote. That’s not fair, and you should change it!

He asked for some specifics, so I reiterated the Indefinite Leave to Remain phrase for him, and told him that it’s called permanent residence in common parlance, and it’s the step before citizenship, and perhaps some other details. I didn’t note to him at the time, but “the step before citizenship” makes it sound like I need to go for citizenship – I don’t. I can stay at this status for the rest of my life. A few people actually can’t go for citizenship, so they’ll be deprived of the vote forever. And, of course, I can apply and pay the £1100+ ($1700+) for the citizenship application, but there’s no guarantee it’ll be granted.

He also asked such an odd question – which I’ll probably muse upon further in a separate entry: “You’ve been told you can’t vote?”

I was a bit flummoxed by this phrasing, and realized later I missed my opportunity: I should’ve said: “Well, Theresa May didn’t come knock on my door and tell me herself, no.”

I also missed my chance to tell him that I myself read the entire set of immigration rules at each step of the way (and its daily changes as I gather my application materials); that no, no one is there telling us immigrants what we need to know – what an incredibly odd concept!

Once I’d half-recovered from the bizarre question, I simply told him that it’s in the rules and regs. He offered to look into it and follow up with me, but I could tell he wasn’t getting it. Then he offered to take it to the party as a thing to think about changing, and that’s what I was after.


Chris said the poor bloke probably hung up and demanded danger pay. A friend said he’d have been a volunteer, who probably hung up and went for a stiff drink. Good thing the Glossop Labour Club has a bar.

Food for thought: even currently-held prisoners, as well as released ex-cons, all have the right to vote in the UK. It’s a human right. Shame that immigrants aren’t humans.

Royal Garden Party!

 Posted by at 12:51 on 19 March 2015
Mar 192015
 

I have been cordially invited to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.

Eeeeeeeeeeeee! 🙂

Image credit Andrew James.

Image credit Andrew James.

Well, me and 8,000 of my closest friends who happen to also be lucky WI members. In honor of the WI’s 100th year, they’re throwing us a garden party at the palace, as they do. They last did this 50 years ago.

Because I can do nothing by halves, this will quite probably be my very first trip to London, as well. Nothing like jumping in at the deep end!

In searching online for images for this post (seeing as I don’t have any of my own yet!), I’ve just learned that these garden parties have “evolved into a way of rewarding and recognising public service. They are attended by people from all walks of life.” (source) They throw four a year: three at Buckingham and one at the palace in Scotland.

There’s a coach (charter bus) going, which the county WI is arranging, down and back the same day. My first instinct upon hearing about taking a coach down1 was echoed by someone else when they said “You’d arrive like a wet lettuce!” Quite. The gates open at 3pm, so a single day is do-able from Derbyshire, but it’s all the pick ups along the way. You can get from Glossop to London by train in less than three hours; a coach picking up all over Derbyshire could take many hours longer. The fear of snarls of traffic on the motorway (traffic jams are a frequent occurrence, especially around London) is high enough for me to think they’re insane to think about making it a one-day trip, especially when going by road.

Trains also frequently have problems, something quickly forgotten once anyone no longer relies on them. I’ve not yet decided on train versus driving, but either way, I shall definitely be going down the day before and staying overnight. Then, if there are any problems getting there, I shall have enough cushion! Doing some arithmetic – not the real numbers, because I can’t be bothered to look them up, but a quick back of the envelope calculation – I realize how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to get this opportunity: I’m absolutely not going to throw it away by trying to cut the time too tight and wind up having something go wrong and arrive too late!

The palace throws four regular garden parties each year, each time inviting approximately 10,000 people. With about 60 million people in the UK, and not adjusting either of those figures (though I’m sure they both change over time), over 60 years (age 15 to 75 or so), a person would have a 4% chance of being invited to a Royal Garden Party. It’s not quite the 1%…!

For this garden party, each WI is to ballot to send one member to the do. Since there are 8,000 tickets and about 6,600 WIs, there are some further tickets distributed through other means. My own invitation is in recognition of my work for the county federation of WIs. It’s been interesting to see the different meanings that balloting has for the different WIs. Most of the time, ballot is taken to mean draw, and that’s what’s happened in many instances: those interested have put their names in a hat and one’s been chosen. In one WI I know of, which is only a few years old, they chose their founder member, saying she deserves to go, since she got them all together.

In another WI, a member who was around for the last garden party piped up to tell the story of an unnamed WI from that time. They did a draw, and wound up drawing the name of a member who’d already decided she wouldn’t be staying on with the WI much longer.2 There were a lot of bad feelings, then, that this was the woman sent to represent that WI. The longtime member, who is well-versed in the rules, pointed out that a ballot is not a draw, but that ballot papers should be made up, and members should vote on who would go to represent the WI. Ballot papers were duly made.

So long as the members of that institute are happy with how it was chosen, it doesn’t matter how their method compares to others, of course – the same as all the other choices we make in how to run our institutes.

I’m thrilled that it’s happened that the three ladies I know who are going are all friends of mine – I must get them together so we can all talk about hats! 🙂


Anyway! I’m going to a Royal Garden Party! I’m excited! I’m just left with two questions — Whatever shall I wear? and Where do I find a hat?!

  1. especially after my experience of it for the NFWI AGM in Cardiff a couple years ago, which took 6.5 hours instead of 4 hours by train []
  2. I don’t know if she was leaving the whole WI, or if she was moving, so she was leaving that WI, or what. []

A Murmuration of Starlings

 Posted by at 11:13 on 9 March 2015
Mar 092015
 

Our first outing in the new car!

Starlings!

Starlings!

Originally, I thought we’d spend our first weekend figuring out all the things the car can do – reading the manuals and playing with all the gadgets.

But then, I read in one of the local papers about a particularly impressive flock of starlings worth seeing. I’m no bird watcher – I haven’t the patience – but I’ve seen videos of the acrobatics that starlings get up to, and it seemed well worth going to see. So I marched right up to Chris, thrust the paper at him, ignored the look of confusion on his face, and announced that we’d be going to this the very first weekend we had the car – and hoping it wasn’t too late.

The paper says they roost in this spot from October to March, and this would be the first weekend of March. I didn’t know a thing about the birds, and English being the ambiguous language that it is, and nature not paying attention to a calendar anyway, I didn’t know if that included March or not. We just went and hoped for the best. Saturday was a gloriously sunny day, so we went then.

On our way up the hill.

On our way up the hill.

Once I got home, I looked up starlings a bit, and discovered that they flock together in these huge murmurations in the non-breeding season; they’re at their largest in the winter, when joined by birds that have migrated over from Europe (for the milder climate). Aha – so we just caught the tail end, that explains why we didn’t see the 40,000 to 70,000 that the paper talked about. No matter; we’ll go back later on this year, in November/December, and hope to see more. It was really peaceful and pleasant as it was, so we both enjoyed it.

Awaiting the starlings

Awaiting the starlings

Unfortunately, none of my video came out well – it is not a Serious Camera, and it struggled with the birds as far away as they were, in the low light. Go watch this one from the RSPB instead.

Apparently, they’re choosing a place to roost while they’re doing their acrobatics. Chris reckons the sounds they’re making are, “I call dibs on that branch!” “No, I do!” and so on. 😉

The drive was really pleasant. It’s about half an hour’s drive away, through our rolling countryside. Since we were driving, we were able to scope out Chinley, a nearby town, since I need to drive there in a fortnight, on the way back.

Roost chosen - they're settled and we're cold. One more photo, and then we're out of here!

Roost chosen – they’re settled and we’re cold. One more photo, and then we’re out of here!

I’ve read about these starling roosts in Derbyshire for years, but never been able or willing enough to get there. This particular one, it turns out, we could’ve gotten there on public transport, if we were really, really interested. The 18-mile, 30-minute drive there would’ve been 2.5 hours: one and a half hours by bus plus another hour of walking. Then, after watching for the display, we’d have had a 6 to 6.5 hour trek home. We could actually just walk home in that time, or we could:

  • Walk an hour,
  • Wait half an hour,
  • Take a bus for 20 minutes,
  • Walk 15 minutes,
  • Wait 45 minutes,
  • Take a train for 1 hour 5 minutes,
  • Wait 1 hour 35 minutes,
  • Take a train for 35 minutes,
  • And then either:
    • Walk another 30 minutes, or
    • Take a cab for 5 minutes (and about £4).

All of the walking, except that very last 30 minutes (where we’d likely end up in a cab anyway, my feet having given out long before), would be along roads with no sidewalks (pavements), no shoulders, with cars zipping by in a 50 mph speed limit (so, y’know, generally going more than that, as they do everywhere). The trip back would be in the dark – and the countryside, of course, has no streetlights. We could, of course, have walked through the fields, as public footpaths crisscross the countryside, but one false step in the dark and we still might not have made it back. I’m afraid we’re really not that interested in birds – or anything else – to have made that trek.

If we made it, we’d have gotten home utterly exhausted, grimy, irritated beyond measure from the people, noise, and waiting we’d have put up with, and it would have been such a horrible experience, no matter how impressive the birds were – or whatever was at the other end of that trek. To add insult to injury, we’d have paid through the nose for it: the public transport would’ve been £50.20 (or about £55 with optional cab fare); the diesel for the car should have been about £4.72. Naturally, there are costs beyond the fuel, but they don’t add up that much, of course. The public transport companies are making money hand over fist.

So so so very glad we have another car, at loooong last!

No Car Mats!

 Posted by at 10:29 on 7 March 2015
Mar 072015
 

Having driven for 17 years, and this being my 4th car, it is a strange sensation to have to buy all the car stuff from scratch. The first morning, in preparing to drive Chris to the train station, I realized I didn’t have so much as an ice scraper yet. It’s a most bizarre feeling – I have a trunk full of car stuff … in my car in the US. Of course, it needs to stay there, because of our two cars, that one’s much more likey to break down and need those things.

However, I gradually acclimated to this notion. I realized that starting with a clean slate gave me the chance to deliberately choose things, instead of just having things that once sounded like a good idea but I had never managed to use in 10 years or some such and would look at every 6 months and think, “I really must get rid of that,” not do, and still have it and think the same thing 6 months later. Not that I know this from experience!

So, I have to get a whole new set of car fluids, ice scraper, and all those odds and ends I think of as essential for peace of mind while driving. I finally managed to get to grips with that.

What’s really discombobulated me, however, was getting our car home and realizing that it had no car mats! This is just so bizarre to me. One friend of mine had advised me to refuse the car mats and all the other extras the dealer would try to sell me. If I’d bought a new car and refused the car mats, then it’d make sense that my car had no car mats. But I wasn’t even given the option. Used cars should already have car mats!

I don’t know how well the bare carpet will hold up, so I quickly set about sourcing some mats. I phoned up the company I ended up ordering from, and had a conversation about the different types of mats they make – the cheapest ones might be expected to wear out and get holes in them within a few years. Holes in carmats? My 21 year old car has the original mats it came out of the showroom with, and it certainly hasn’t suffered wear like that! (There are one or two stains, and possibly a bit of fading from the sun, is all.) I’d never have even thought of holes in carmats. I shouldn’t have to think about this – cars should come with carmats!!!

What I’d really like to know is what happened to the ones that were in the car. The carpet condition is too good for there to have been none. I wonder if they were just ratty, so either the last owner or the dealer took them out to make the car look better. Others have suggested that the last owners removed them to put in their next car, which sounds ridiculous to me because they most likely wouldn’t fit.

At one point during the buying of the car, I found the salesman digging in a closet. He said it was full of car mats – new ones. I guess those would be the ones the new cars came with that the buyers declined to pay the extra fee to keep. This is all so strange, and wasteful. The carmats should just be included with the car; what good is a closet full of extra car mats that don’t fit other cars now? The automaker should be doing everything in its power to have its branding all over – it’s usually on the carmat, too – having unbranded car mats all over is not good for them, either. Very peculiar that the maker lets the dealer separate it out as a line item charge.

The car mat company is going to send me a sample to be sure I’m happy with the quality before they proceed with making the set. Hopefully I’ll find a set that’ll just last and I won’t have to think about carmats again for many years – until we buy our next car!

——-

I don’t know if I’m just abnormally easy on carmats, or if there are just some really flimsy ones out there. Please, tell me your experiences of car mats! Have you ever worn holes through them, or had other major wear and tear? What sorts have you had?

Sedans and Saloons, Oh My!

 Posted by at 23:15 on 22 February 2015
Feb 222015
 

As I mentioned, the lingo is slightly different here. In this entry, I’ll focus on the different classes of cars.

This is a sedan:

A sedan

A sedan.

The Brits call it a saloon. Naturally, that always makes me think it should look like this:

cowboy

Thanks to Chris for making this image.

A saloon, complete with spitoon.
Thanks to Chris for making this image.

One salesman actually used the word sedan with me recently, and it was so very refreshing – I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it. Ah, the little things.

More pictures …

Also, this is a station wagon:

A station wagon.

A station wagon.

The Brits call it an estate. Makes it sound like a completely different beast, doesn’t it? After all, The Chatsworth Estate doesn’t quite have the same ring as The Chatsworth Station Wagon, for example. 😉

Car salesmen know what an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) is, and also talk about Crossovers and MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles), but I can’t see a difference between these three, myself. What’s really weird is that my friends are really clueless about what SUVs are when I mention them. Even describing them (as tall estates, for example) yields confusion. I’ve yet to figure out what SUVs are known as colloquially – but it’s okay; I only need to know how to communicate with the car salesmen (and women, if I ever find any), and I can do that.

SUVs
Mazda Tribute 2.0 GSi SUV

Mazda Tribute 2.0 GSi SUV

Infiniti EX 3.7 GT SUV

Infiniti EX 3.7 GT SUV

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi Titan SUV

Kia Sportage 2.0 Titan SUV

MPVs
VW Golf MPV

VW Golf MPV

Citroen C4 Picasso MPV

Citroen C4 Picasso MPV

Seat Alhambra MPV

Seat Alhambra MPV

Crossovers
Volvo XC60 Crossover

Volvo XC60 Crossover

Mazda CX5 Crossover

Mazda CX5 Crossover

Skoda Yeti Crossover

Skoda Yeti Crossover

Beyond these, there are the superminis, which are the tiny baby cars that haven’t yet grown up. 😉 There’s a brilliant bumper sticker on one red one I pass frequently that says, “When I grow up, I want to be a fire engine!” There are the small family cars, which are smaller than their American counterparts. There are the family cars, the compact executives, the executive cars, the luxury cars. Shrinking back down, we get the coupes, which the people who can’t pronounce fillet correctly suddenly decide needs to rhyme with the American fillet, so it’s ridiculously written as coupé and it’s even pronounced as two syllables. When I’m feeling particularly irritated at the process, I get the white out and obliterate the stupid accent mark from whatever magazine I’m reading. Lastly, convertibles get renamed cabriolets, just because that’s a fun word to say, I think.

Each car comes with about six to 24 different engine choices, and I’m learning lots in sussing out what all the mysterious acronyms mean. My determination to research and choose something I’m happy with bleeds into most decisions I make (consumer and otherwise) – and a car’s the second biggest purchase a person will ever make (unless they immigrate) – so this is a long process, not helped by the weather and other difficulties, but we’re hoping to be happy with it in the end!

Chris remains steadfastly against getting the Porsche, however. No matter how many times I tell him that all the models get top marks for reliability! 🙁

One day, Porsche, one day!

One day, Porsche, one day!

Car Shopping Tidbits

 Posted by at 08:57 on 18 February 2015
Feb 182015
 

Tidbits I’ve learned while car shopping, in no particular order …

* Going in the evening, an hour or two before closing, often means getting the managers / assistant managers / senior salesman. This could be a pro or con for you, but it seems to be pretty prevalent.

* The idiotic “tire repair kit” (that is, can of fix a flat) that has replaced many spare tires in newer cars is set into a foam insert taking up the space that the spare tire should be set into. You can simply remove that and put in a spare tire, if that’s what you want to do. I was so worried that they’d actually removed the space for the wheel and that a spare tire would have to sit in the trunk, but thank heavens this isn’t so. (They’ve taken out the spare tire to make the car that teeny tiny bit lighter to improve gas mileage, you see. Thus, they say it’s “better for the environment”. I reckon having all those chemicals released from those cans of fix a flat into all those flat tires across Europe is probably worse for the environment than the teeny tiny bit of less gas that’s used, but they don’t actually care about that sort of thing.)

* Just like in the US, a dealer will have makes of used cars for sale in the lot other than the brand on the sign. There seemed to be such a perception amongst friends and acquaintances that a Honda dealership, for example, would only ever have Honda cars in the lot, that I became so confused. See, in the US, it’s quite regular for car buyers to trade in their cars at the dealership; I know it’s an option here, too, though I don’t know how frequently it’s done. The trade in could be any make, though, so the Honda dealer could be left with a Toyota or a Ferrari or whatever to sell – thus, a used car buyer can find pretty much any make in the lot, regardless of what’s on the sign. Having done some temporary work at a car auction house in the US, I wondered if all non-Honda cars being traded in at that UK Honda lot would immediately be sent to auction, so that even all the used cars on the Honda lot would be Hondas? Turns out nope – the car lot has all different makes on it, just like in the US. They just want any car that’s in decent condition, and they’ll try to sell it.

* There are, in the Greater Manchester area, quite a few local chains of dealerships. Hopefully this means I can tap the whole chain’s stock instead of just one location at a time, and this can work to my advantage. We shall see.

* Bizarrely, the salesmen don’t approach me when I’m looking at the cars in the lot. I don’t know if that’s just the ones I’ve been to so far, or if that’s the norm here. It feels like I’m being really neglected, though.

* Also bizarrely, you seem to have to make an appointment to take a test drive. I could be wrong about this one; will update as we do more research.

* I am amused that all the salesmen so far have assumed I’ve only just arrived in this country.

What Is Car “Servicing”?

 Posted by at 09:54 on 16 February 2015
Feb 162015
 

Having gotten my UK driver’s license in December, the car shopping has now commenced. The rest of December was given over to a trip to the US, and then a rather severe illness followed me home, so some down time was in order once home before I could pick the thread up and start really trying to make heads or tails of car shopping and owning in this foreign country. I’m learning about it now, though, and reckon I may as well write up bits as I go.

As with everything else in this country, the system is just slightly different from what it is in the US, except for a few things that are majorly different and a few things that are exactly the same. One of the things I’ve realized in this process is just how much I don’t really know properly about buying a car in the US – despite having done it three times! But there, I have a trusted Dad and a trusted car dealership both to help me through the process – so whatever details are fuzzy, I trust that they’re looking out for me and it’s taken care of okay. In talking to friends here, I’ve learned that they’ve mostly relied on one or both of these as well (well, their own trusted friend/relative, not necessarily my dad), and I’ve gotten some recommendations about dealerships. Of course, those dealerships haven’t earned my trust, so I’m figuring out the whole system so that I know exactly what’s going on, with none of the vagueness this time – and less opportunity for anyone to pull the wool over my eyes, let’s hope!

There are a lot of things to figure out. This entry shan’t be an exhaustive listing; that’d be too long and tedious, and it’s been done really well elsewhere. When I’m done, I think I’ll post a link list of really helpful resources. As I go along, though, I want to highlight some of those things that work differently, either minorly or majorly, either for the vague interest of the readers I know I have, or potentially to help out other immigrants finding these pages later on, similarly flummoxed by the whole system.

In this entry, I want to talk about servicing: some car listings will advertise a full service history. You might also see mechanic shops1 advertise “servicing” specials for £99, for example. But I was left wondering one very large question: WHAT IS “SERVICING?!”

Come into the rabbit hole with me!

I started out by asking friends who have cars. I got unclear answers that disagreed with each other. The answers did tell me that the prices were extremely variable, and servicing day could be quite a source of stress – the amount it would cost could be quite an unknown. The guides I’ve been reading are telling me how many miles or months to do servicing for each vehicle make and model (it’s different from car to car). The service history is some sort of bound log book that should have stamps and signatures from the mechanic shop saying that the “service” has been done, whatever it is. I got a quote on a warranty to see what sorts of things it would and wouldn’t cover, and saw that maintaining this “full service history” was a condition of the warranty. I asked and asked and asked around, though, and got vague answers that didn’t agree with each other. I was very frustrated.

Not only have I driven many hundreds of thousands of miles in my 17 years of driving, but I’ve done a fair bit of work under the hood, too. When I was a college (university) student, I had a Pontiac Grand Am – I swear it was the worst car ever made, mechanically – and my choices were to learn how to fix it or to do without a car, basically. The latter’s not really an option in middle America, which I know is not something most Englishpeople can wrap their heads around, but it’s true. So, I got the shop manual and read it, and learned to fix some things. Dad helped me with some – the serpentine belt is definitely a two-person job. I’ve changed oil, replaced belts, fans, thermostats, fuel filters, spark plugs, brakes, put tires onto wheels, changed innumerable tires, and various other odds and ends. Simple stuff: I’m no mechanic, and I don’t pretend to know the complicated stuff, but I can read the directions for how to replace a thing – it’s the same, really, as following a recipe or reading a mathematical proof. If I have the tools, I can usually give it a go. I don’t always choose to, but I know I am perfectly capable of doing a great number of things on cars.

Combine that background with the general background I grew up with: the closest I’ve ever come to anything so vague as “servicing” is “tuneup”, but I finally got an actual definition for that when I was around 18: it apparently means replacing the air filter, spark plugs, and wires. I’ve been told that same definition by many different people and companies over the years now, so it seems to be fairly universally accepted. Else, in the US that I grew up in, we took our cars “to get the brakes replaced” (or done) or to “get the oil changed” or “to get the tires replaced”, etc – we actually say what we’re having done. I’ve never been aware of anything so universal and vague and useless as this “servicing” malarky that doesn’t give any clue at all about what’s being done. Some people have told me they have it done every three months; the books I’m looking at only call for it to be done every 12-24 months for most cars. What could it be that they’re actually doing?!

I’ve already thrown up my hands in frustration about the lack of car loving here – at least in my current social circles. There’s this widespread misconception that, while owners used to be able to work on their own cars, they absolutely can’t now because computers control so much, so now everyone must take their cars to mechanics for everything. Computers do have a lot to do with cars that shadetree mechanics can’t do much about – but a lot of the simple stuff doesn’t deal with that at all. Besides, the way to deal with computer errors is to get a computer code reader that you plug in to the car, so you can see what errors you’re getting, and then you can address them. I know cars have changed since mine was built, but I can’t imagine it’s as difficult as people make out.

Anyway, I did manage to learn that a full service history is something that I should definitely get when buying a car. It would be some sort of bound booklet, and it would have stamps and signatures from the mechanic shops that had done work of some sort – I was still not sure whether it was preventive or curative (as in, oil changes type work or fixing something gone wrong type work) – on the car. If the car didn’t have a full service history, I should eye it very skeptically and give it a wide berth. However, the service booklet probably wouldn’t tell me what was done to the car – it’s just that the mechanic wouldn’t have signed off on it if the right stuff hadn’t been done.

I stayed confused and frustrated for a long time – surely people aren’t just blindly giving their money to mechanics? Surely they have some clue of what they’re paying money for, right?

Reading the guides I’d found, and putting it together with what I’d been told about servicing by my car-owning friends, I finally concluded that this must be something like the schedule I’d seen in every car owner’s manual I’ve had, with things like oil change every X miles, belt changes every Y miles, fluid flushes every Z miles, and so forth, lining up different preventive maintenance things to be done every so many thousand miles or months. That would help to explain why this guide I have shows a different schedule for every different car, and why the answers were so fuzzy and different from each car owner.

Eventually, I had a chance to go by a couple of local mechanic shops and ask. I’d thought to do this, both to try to get the answer, and to feel out local mechanic shops – because all cars need fixing sooner or later, so I’ll need a mechanic, so it’d be good to go have a chat and start to get a feel for these places.

The first one I went to, I got an answer a lot like my friends’ answers, leaving me not much clearer – though he was at least able to give me some pricing information, and to answer another question I had clearly.

The second one I went to was brilliant, though. Once I explained what I was after, the confusion cleared from his face, and he showed me the blank form on his clipboard and said he was just about to do a servicing right now – and showed me the three-page checklist. Brilliant! I don’t remember everything that was on that list, but a lot of it was the sort of things that get checked at a full service oil change in the US (one of those with the 49-point inspection type things). They’re looking at the condition of the belts, tires, fluids, wipers, and so on.

He showed me the bound booklet, but all I could gather was that it came from the manufacturer – it had no stamps yet because it was a brand new car, just in for its first servicing (well, 11-month-old car) – so he didn’t flip it open. So when I do buy a car, I’ll get that and see more.

We talked at length, and I came home that day and started this entry, and then left it far too long. But I came to realize that it’s an inspection2: nearly all those entries on that checklist started with “Check condition of…” Once this dawned on me, I realized that I had my answer to a question that had plagued Chris and I: to get servicing or not to get servicing?

See, I generally buy a car and keep it til it won’t go anymore – my first car was totalled by an accident, and my second car’s motor gave out (that was the Grand Am; by then I was Done with it – So Very Done). My third car will cost far too much to import, and then the steering wheel’s on the wrong side, so I’m not dealing with that; she’ll stay in the US to be driven when we’re there until she won’t go anymore. This time, though, I was pondering, do we get a car that’s “good enough for now” in the hopes of selling it on in a few years, and getting a nicer one, or do we follow this same pattern, and get a car that we’re quite happy to keep til it won’t go anymore (or, most likely, costs too much to get to pass its MOT)? If the former, then we need to be sure to keep up the service history stamps. If the latter, then we can do what we please – do our own work, or whatever.

Once I realized it’s mostly just a checklist – an inspection – then I realized that Chris and I could check our car over ourselves, at least most of the checklist, and know before servicing whether any work would need doing, and thus alleviate the fear of the unknown bill part. Heck, if any of the simpler things needed doing, we could even do those ourselves before taking it in, and save the labor and the marked-up parts costs. Then we could still get the precious stamps, but with less extra costs on top.

Since I’ve started this entry, I’ve even found one of those checklists online, here. Looking at that list closely (well, I’m sure that’s a different list; it’s a different shop), and seeing the prices, I’m astonished at the highway robbery of it. I think Chris and I will be coming down on the side of “keep until it fails the MOT” – it seems cars are lucky to make it to age 10 or 12 here – and just doing it ourselves with no precious stamps. We could spend a day doing all the things on that list, without any specialist tools at all, and pay ourselves over £200, with no chance of scamming ourselves!

So: What is car servicing? It’s looking everything over and making sure everything works right (lights, etc); making sure nothing’s nearly worn out (belts, brakes, etc); replacing things on schedule according to the manufacturer (oil, fluids, spark plugs, air filter); replacing things that are worn out (wiper blades, etc). That’s all. “What’s included in a car servicing?” got me results from Google, if you want some more sample lists.

  1. Mechanic shops are commonly called garages in England and America, but I hate the ambiguity. Garages in America and England are also places to store your car (or your junk). In England, garages are furthermore places to put gas in your car and places to buy a car. []
  2. not to be confused with the MOT, which is what most Brits seem to think of when you mention “inspection” and “car” in the same sentence. I’ll talk about the MOT another time, but just bear in mind that this is something completely different. []

The great caravan debacle

 Posted by at 09:43 on 4 February 2015
Feb 042015
 

Now that you have a basic idea about planning applications (and I have something to point people at later; handy, that), I can tell you what I really wanted to tell you about when I started typing that recent entry.

Because I live where I live, we have some overlapping entities dealing with planning applications that could affect us, so I check them all. They, of course, have jurisdictions that include far more than just my little local area, so I mostly skim past them, learning some of the more interesting place names as I go. Such would’ve been the case with this application had we not locally had such an uproar over a caravan site that made me wonder just what sort of caravan site was being proposed, and curious if the traveller caravan site proposed for Glossop had been relocated elsewhere in the National Park.

Turns out no, it’s got nothing to do with that traveller site. This application has a long, rich history all its very own. An absolutely crazy history. The deputy chair of the community action group Peak Park Watch has very helpfully outlined it in full in his first letter of objection. That really is worth a read in its entirety (it’s only four pages), but I’ll just put the first point he raises here to start with:

This application is not as described by the Chair of planning Paul Ancell “a normal application, which will be dealt with as such.” This application is an ill considered attempt by an Authority to cover up its own past serial lack of due diligences, and then a further attempt to inflict the consequences of these actions on the community by way of mitigation of these maladministrations. This application at best should never have materialised at all, at worst it should have been called in and dealt with independently. This application by any stretch of the imagination cannot be described as a “normal application”, by any informed responsible person.

I’m still learning my way around such things, but I believe that in England, them’s fightin’ words. Most things seem to be said in much more wooly language. Mind, as you’ll see, he has very good reasons for throwing down the gauntlet this way, but it is a very shocking opening paragraph.

But have a look at the history of this piece of land, and then tell me if you can disagree with Mr Hardwick’s language and tone – I can’t. First it was part of a farm. The farm’s been broken up, and sold off in pieces. The plot of land in question actually remains open agricultural (grazing) fields, surrounded by more of the same. Not for want of trying…

I can’t get all the documents – some of this is too old – but reading from what I can find, in 1998, planning permission was granted by the Peak District National Park Authority for a caravan site on this field. Except the planner accidentally left out the word “touring” from the notice granting permission, thereby leaving open the possibility of static caravans.

At this point, the non-British among us need to go figure out what the difference is between these. I believe Glossop Caravans is the largest retailer of caravans in the country, so let’s go have a look at their website:

GlossopCaravans

Aha. Caravans seem to be the pull-behind trailers; motorhomes seem to be RVs; static caravans seem to be the mobile homes or manufactured homes that stay put. I’m reliably told that static caravans come in quite a range of levels, from basic to luxurious, from small to quite sizeable (though always single-wide, and indeed all the ones listed on Glossop Caravans right now are 10 to 12 feet wide), and as such inherently suffer no connotation issues of “trailer trash” or the like. Indeed, I’m told it’s quite common to mix mobile homes (static caravans) into sites catering for people with RVs, etc, for people to rent while on vacation – or even to have sites exclusively made of the mobile homes (static caravans) for vacation goers (holiday makers).

Well then, I don’t pretend to understand why the Peak District National Park is so opposed to static caravans being in the mix of this particular caravan park, but boy howdy, are they ever. Seems the developer that bought this piece of land with that permission already attached to it took them to court over it, and for some reason (I can’t find it), the High Court struck down whatever ruling was made, so the developer appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. Whenever a planning decision is made that the landowner doesn’t like, they can appeal to the appropriate federal government body, which is the Planning Inspectorate.

I found the case summary and the Inspector’s Decision, cluing us all in that the Peak District National Park’s argument was that in a separate explanatory note (specifically, in paragraph 3, subparagraphs a and b), reference was made to touring caravans, and that this separate, non-letterheaded sheet of paper which wasn’t referred to in the planning decision, was in fact part of the planning decision. For some strange reason, the inspector didn’t buy this. Since this is England, where we suffer from common law, his decision had the power to set precedent and affect planning law all over the country. He was thankfully aware of that and cautious about his actions:

In particular, it would mean that nobody could rely on the description of the proposed development given on either the application form or the planning decision notice, even if no other document was referred to at all, because there might just be another document submitted with the application that contained a different description.

A further point is that a document such as the explanatory note may contain nothing that identifies it as an important document. For example, as in this case, it might not be on letter-headed paper. Although in this case it is a typewritten document on good paper, in another case, it might just as easily be a hand-written note on the proverbial back of a cigarette packet. I think it is inconceivable that a planning permission and a planning application, both absolutely clear on their faces, could be overridden by some other, possibly nondescript document that happened to be sent in with the application. How would anybody looking at the planning permission decision notice know whether such a document existed or not? The only answer would be that specific reference is made to that further document either on the application form or in the permission, or both. Without such reference, it cannot be incorporated into either the application or the permission.

Quite.

The Peak District National Park decided after this to buy the land back off the developer, at a massive loss. They put out a press release about how they “saved residents from developers”, glossing over why the developer got involved in the first place. Oh, and now they have access issues – the field isn’t immediately adjacent to the road, and they are now having trouble with the landowner of the bit the connecting road should go through. This issue hasn’t been cleared up yet, Mr Hardwick tells us. Brilliant! Even if it is, the turn will be on a blind bend – this was really well thought out, we can tell.

Image from the National Trust.

Image from the National Trust.

The park waited a few years, presumably hoping for residents’ memories to fade, and filed this application for this caravan site. I think they’ve not included the static caravans, but they have included camping pods, which I had to look up. It’s a wooden hut which you’re to think of as a replacement for a tent – you’re meant to bring everything else. Only some are heated and lit. They cost as much to rent as a hotel or B&B. (We probably won’t bother with them.) Now the residents are up in arms about the pods – I can see their point that these would be better suited for wooded areas than open fields.

It would be funny if it weren’t our money they were wasting with their shenanigans – and in such amounts, too. Mr Hardwick suggests the purchase price was something like £700,000; who knows what the legal fees amounted to. He suggests putting in the infrastructure for the touring caravan site will cost another £200,000, plus whatever’s needed for the access. He cautions that the financial blight on the village could end up costing the authority another £1 million. I know better ways to spend … something like £3 million than on some piece of grass! How bout that round the world cruise, for a start…

As it is, we can only shake our heads and know that at least there are incompetent fools everywhere. It’s one thing to have made the mistake and missed out the word “touring” in the original planning permission … but why compound the error by wasting so much money on the court case and the planning appeal, and then buying the plot of land? Truly, why is it so important that static caravans not be allowed? I don’t get it.