It never gets old

I’ve lived in the UK for more than four years now. At the moment, I’m doing a fair amount of travelling for work — mostly from Newcastle to Cambridge or Macclesfield and back. As this morning’s train passed through the misty hills of County Durham, I found myself thinking, yet again, that travelling within the UK still gives me a sense of being on vacation. People often ask me why I feel more energized living in the UK, and I think this is a large part of it. I had visited the UK a couple of dozen times or so before moving here, so even when I’m working hard or spending time in a less-than-idyllic setting, life here always brings me a faint whiff of holiday. Even when I’m grousing about separate hot and cold taps or being called “Mrs” without being asked, there’s just something about the atmosphere…

Beginning to look at Cambridge housing

Yesterday I went for my first viewing of a flat in Cambridge. I’ve been looking at the possibilities since September, but so far I’ve stuck to searching on rental websites (mostly Rightmove) and hadn’t gone so far as to contact a letting agent until the last couple of weeks. Mostly that’s because the properties were available much sooner than I could move into them, but now they are coming into the right time of year and it’s time for me to start looking more seriously. As with the car, I can’t sign a contract until 1 February or later, but I don’t want to wait until then to take my search beyond the web. The web searching I’ve done, though, has given me a good idea of what kinds of places are where. I need to study the bus routes and operating hours as well, so that I can consider taking a place that’s not within about half a mile of the station.

Anyway, the location of the flat I saw yesterday is great for getting to the office and to other parts of the UK, and it’s got two bedrooms and two bathrooms (good for sharing) and an “undercroft” secure parking space, so I was all set to like it. I found it a bit disappointing, though — it was smaller than it appears in the photos, and it smelled of catbox (although no cat was to be seen and I didn’t find myself sneezing). I assume the smell can be eliminated with a thorough cleaning. The place reminded me of cookie-cutter apartments from my 20s, although its proximity to the train station and the presence of the underneath parking garage speaks of a large professional tenant community. That particular flat will probably be taken before I am satisfied with what I find, so I doubt I’ll end up there, but it was worth going to have a look.

I’ve got two more viewings scheduled for next week; both of these are terraced houses (US: townhouses, row houses) and farther from the station. Slightly lower in rent. We’ll see. Hoping to see a couple of other places as well.

One agent sent me listings for a couple of other places. When I told her why I’m not willing to consider anything in Trumpington, she hooted with laughter and said she’ll never think of that neighborhood the same way again.

Anticipatory car shopping!

This afternoon I went to a local Toyota dealer to do some— window shopping, I guess you could call it. I won’t be able to buy a car for another five weeks (and I told them this), but I learned enough today that I’ve made a tentative decision: I’m going to aim for a 2014 Yaris Icon or Icon Plus and I’m going to buy it before I move to Cambridge. I am driving a rental car right now — rented for ten days during the holidays, partly because public transport in the UK doesn’t run on Christmas or New Year’s — and in addition to a Christmas-Day jaunt that a friend and I took along the Tyne Valley and into the Pennine Hills I’m taking the opportunity to go to a few places that take a bit of work to get to on public transport. (Turns out that two buses that stop near my flat also stop in front of the dealership, so when I go back there to buy a car I’ll know without having to look it up which ones I can take.) The reason for buying it before I move is that the finance company will want to know, among other things, how long I’ve lived at my current address, which will be more than four years if I buy it before I move. And having a car will probably make it easier to do the moving.

At a friend’s suggestion, I started my online searching at autotrader.co.uk (cars for sale by individuals), but unfortunately they had very few suitable cars anywhere near Newcastle. Next I looked at online car reviews, mostly at “Which?” — kind of like Consumer Reports but for the UK, and to get access to the reviews I signed up for a trial membership. I looked at all of the Japanese automakers and a few others, and then I turned to automaker websites (this time just the Japanese ones). When I decided to visit a dealer this afternoon I chose Toyota: I’ve been very pleased with all the Toyotas I’ve ever had, and all of the basic controls (seat movements, lights, wipers, turn signals…) have always worked in more or less the same way. So when I sat in the driver’s seat, even though the last Toyota I owned was a 2000 model (a Corolla) — once I ignored the fact that the gearshift and the heater & radio were to my left — it felt like coming home. Today’s cars have more bells and whistles, of course, than any I’ve ever had — there’s a touch screen for more sophisticated control of the electronics, for example, but fortunately the steering wheel has a radio control thingie that allows you to change the channel and adjust the volume while keeping your eyes on the road. This dealership has two locations in the Newcastle/Gateshead area, and between them they have several used Yaris cars that could meet my requirements. So I’m feeling tentatively sorted with that.

I’ll also have to investigate insurance policies; I’m told that that can be quite a minefield. I wish Amica Mutual operated in the UK!

Well, dear Brits, I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for another five years

About 20 minutes before I had to leave my flat this morning, a knock sounded loud on my door. I knew immediately what it was: the answer from my application for a Tier 2 General visa. And it was a yes!

my biometric residence permit (privacy details redacted)I had been dreaming that this prize would arrive before I left, but I didn’t dare hope it would actually come this soon. But it did, and I’m delighted! I now have a permit to live and work in the UK through 3 January 2022. (The “Restricted Work” note means tthat I have to work for the company that sponsored me and that any additional work I might do has to be in the same category.) I wasn’t seriously worried that the Home Office would reject my application, but until they had actually said yes my inner catastrophizer was hard at work.

Once I had received my Certificate of Sponsorship from Sigma, I used the UK Visas and Immigration’s (UKVI’s) Priority Service, which guaranteed me a decision within two weeks of my submitting my application. (I submitted the application online and all document exchanges were done by post/mail.) They made their decision in eight days and I received my permit two days later. Well done, UKVI!

And Merry Christmas to me!

Tier 2 visa application submitted

This morning I clicked “Submit” on my online visa application and then went to the Post Office to send off my supporting documents. I’ve chosen the Priority Post route for applying — it’s more expensive than regular post (mail) but you get an answer in two weeks rather than having to wait six to eight weeks for it. It’s also cheaper than the same-day in-person route, which in any case would have required me to use time and even more money go to Sheffield or Croydon. I don’t expect to have any problem with it.

So I should have an answer by the 19th, with a work visa valid from the 3rd of January. Cross your fingers!

Surprised…

…that I haven’t dreamed about my PhD before now.

A couple of nights ago I dreamed that I had my viva and they gave me a result of “Second, with distinction”. That doesn’t make any sense, because as far as I know only a bachelor’s degree gets a first, second, etc., and “with distinction” doesn’t apply to a second-class degree anyhow. But that was my dream. It meant, I think, that I’m anxious about how well I’m going to do.

It doesn’t help that I’m having problems with my main laptop. I’m not going to rehash the story here, but Apple still haven’t come up with a diagnosis/solution that make the problem go away. It’s seriously getting in the way of my productivity, and I’m really glad I never got around to selling my old one. It doesn’t have the memory, speed, or storage of the newer one, and it weighs a lot more, but it suffices as an interim solution.

It’s been quite a week

It’s been quite a week.

First, the best news: I got word that Sigma UK‘s application for a visa sponsor licence has been approved. That’s a big step in the process of my getting a work visa, and I’m delighted! Now they have to issue me a Certificate of Sponsorship, and then I can apply for my visa. Not sure exactly how long all that will take, but I’m confident I’ll have a work visa before my student visa expires in mid-February.

Next, the mixed news. I had my mock viva this week and got really helpful feedback. Both supervisors said it was extremely well written (it’s always nice to receive praise, but I confess I place greater value on feedback that’s actually news to me); the panel said the contributions to knowledge are sufficient for a PhD but I need to convey them more fully. My primary supervisor and I met afterward, and he had a brilliant idea for how I can fill in that gap. The reason this news is mixed is that I won’t be able to make all the changes in time for a mid-December submission of my thesis. I’m going to make as much progress as I can in the next three weeks, and at the end of the month we’re going to regroup and see where we stand. But this feedback and my supervisor’s idea filled in a space that had been worrying me for a while. Clarity is good.

Finally, the horrible news. I’m sure you know what that is. I won’t say much about the US presidential election here because I’ve said a lot on Facebook and this blog is about other things — so I’ll just write this one paragraph. I’m horrified and disgusted. I know that a lot of people voted for Trump because they felt themselves to be in more and more dire straits economically and wanted a change, and some trusted his promise to go “pro-life”; but his election has unleashed a backlash (or a “whitelash”, as some call it) of bullying and violence against people of color and LBGTQ people, and I refuse to let Trump voters pretend they didn’t know that that would happen. I hope we can stem it.

I also want to say that I’m glad I was already making moves to stay in the UK. I’ve heard a lot of Americans say they want to leave the US, and I like to think that if I hadn’t already been planning to stay here I wouldn’t have done so purely because of the election.

Newcastle makes an impression

I had lunch today with two Americans who, at my suggestion, stopped to spend a few hours in Newcastle on their way from London to Edinburgh. They are not regulars to the UK and had never been to Newcastle before. Walking from the train station toward the castle, one of them looked around and said, “London was wonderful and I marvelled at the architecture, but this really ramps it up a notch.” We took a quick look at the castle from the outside — they had suitcases so I didn’t suggest they go in and struggle with all those steps. We did go into St Nicholas Cathedral (which they loved), and before I left them there and headed home to do some more thesis writing I told them to ask the guide to direct them to Grey’s Monument after that. I’ll look forward to hearing what they thought of that. :-)

His comment reminded me of the time I spent in the Italian region of Le Marche a few years ago. My hosts (several families in sequence) insisted on driving me around to see the area, and every time we rounded a curve and I saw another panorama of hills with a hill town perched atop each one — looking for all the world like a Renaissance painting — I exclaimed, “Oh, che bello!” More than one of my host families told me that my reaction had given them a new appreciation of the place where they lived. After four years in Newcastle I’ve grown used to its beauty, and it felt really good to hear that from someone who was unbiased.

They say that…

They say that writin’ up is hard to do,
Now I know, I know that it’s true.
Do say that this is the end.
Instead of writin’ up I wish that
I could lighten up again…

(with apologies to Neil Sedaka)