Category Archives: Living
This week I renewed my automobile insurance. (For some reason, in the UK it’s called “motor insurance”, but I kinda think I’m insuring the whole car and not just its motor.) I had been warned that on a renewal the insurance company may increase your premium and it’s better to shop around than just to accept their price. I didn’t have that experience, though: my insurance company gave me a 20% reduction in premium for having had a year with no claims. (Not having had a driving history in the UK, I couldn’t get this for my first year.) The best part, though, was that they have a driving app that I started using in July; it monitors your driving and scores you on safety. The highest possible score is 10, the average is 7.6 (says the app), and I scored 9.4. This gave me, additionally, 28% off the new premium. So I’m paying 44% less than I paid for insurance during my first year of owning this car.
Let no one say that insurance companies are all sneaks.
What can I say about Cambridge? It’s so very different from Newcastle that I don’t know where to start. Some of the things I’m listing pertain to my new and old neighborhoods specifically, but I think they’re characteristic.
Some things I notice that I like:
- It’s full of Italians.
- I can get to London in 45 minutes, which means I can attend Polyphony Down the Pub on occasion. (And a senior off-peak day return ticket costs only £16.40.)
- It’s full of bicycles, and the infrastructure facilitates them. (When I’m fully back on my feet I may buy one.)
- They recycle just about everything. Including food waste.
- The colleges at the university are gorgeous.
- The bus fare machines don’t spit out a useless paper ticket if you’ve used a pass.
- There are a lot of local greengrocers and other shops with fruit/veg on display outside.
- It’s easy to get good Chinese food without paying through the nose.
- It’s awash in science. Science parks, science campuses, research organisations…
- The river is puntable. Haven’t done it yet but am considering it.
- It has a rather intellectual atmosphere, to some extent.
- It should have more early music. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m told it’s there. Once I’ve got my impending new hip in and working well…
- Pubs are reasonably likely to serve Aspall cyder. It is close to Suffolk, after all…
- It doesn’t have a seriously ugly part right in the city centre. (Newcastle peeps, you know I’m referring to the eastern side of Pilgrim Street and that general area, and you know it’s true.)
- It has a bustling outdoor market right in the city centre. Seven days a week.
- My neighborhood is not nearly as swarming with students as my Newcastle neighborhood was (which is less now than it used to be). My next-door neighbors on both sides are very nice, and we have good conversations. Some things in common.
- My office and officemates are nearby.
Some things I notice that I don’t like:
- They recycle food waste. Which means we have to hang onto it for two weeks until they come around and empty the green bin.
- It’s not very well served by public buses. Not compared with Newcastle, anyway.
- It’s despairingly flat. People tell me it will grow on me and I must visit the fens. Stay tuned.
- There is no castle.
- The surrounding area has almost no ruined castles or abbeys.
- There is no indoor market. (I quickly got spoiled by Grainger Market.)
- Although there are some impressive churches, there is no cathedral. For that you have to go to Ely. (Which I plan to do fairly soon.)
- There is no river gorge with several impressive bridges crossing it — the Cam River is not very wide and its banks are low. (Don’t even think of bringing up the Bridge of Sighs. I’ve been to Venice. Several times.)
- It’s swarming with bicycles. When I’m driving, this makes me just a teeny bit nervous.
- There are a lot of modern, sterile apartment buildings.
- The Apple Store has a long waiting list for Genius Bar appointments.
- There aren’t any back lanes where they could put community bins or even make it easier to put out our wheelie bins. We have to drag the wheelie bins around to the front, find a place to put them amidst the squeezed-in parked cars, and then drag them back around to the back.
- The water is rather hard. Every time I go back north, I am reminded of how much my hair likes the water there.
- My neighborhood doesn’t have parking permits. Sometimes I have to park in the next block or even on the next street over.
- It gets HOT here. Last September I was here for a few days when the high temperature was 34C (93F). Whew!
- It takes a lot longer to get to a decent airport. (I don’t count as decent any airport that’s served mostly by Ryanair.)
- It almost never snows here, they tell me, other than a light dusting.
- It takes a bit of effort to get to the coast, and even more to get to any hills to speak of.
- Much less active local RSA chapter.
- And of course — it’s expensive. I’m paying roughly twice the rent I paid in Newcastle, for an unfurnished place that has slightly more room inside (and admittedly a large-ish back garden). Asking prices of houses for sale are even more out of line.
This list is probably biased by the fact that I’ve just spent a weekend in Newcastle and had a day out in Northumberland. Once I’m really settled in — substantially recovered from hip surgery and able to move reasonably well again (which includes being able to finish unpacking from my move) — I’m sure that my increased ability to explore will increase the size of my positive list. I’ll post further impressions as the mood strikes me.
Today I had what will probably be my last face-to-face meeting with my principal supervisor. He said I’m almost ready to go (i.e., the concepts are well enough fleshed out although I still have some work to do on the content that conveys them). We talked about the draft of my Conclusions chapter (in which I summarize what I did and describe the contributions to knowledge that my research makes), and we also talked about my plans for the Discussions chapter (in which I talk about the limitations of my research and speculate about future research and the possible applicability of my findings). He thinks it’s all excellent. He had a few suggestions to make, of course, but says I’m in very good shape. I still feel overwhelmed by all the editing and pulling together and formatting and printing/copying I have to do to get the thing submittable by late April, but at least I’m not at all worried about how it will be received after I do all that.
This is also my last weekend as a resident of Newcastle. The movers (“removals firm”) are coming next Thursday to pack up most of my stuff, then returning early Friday morning to collect the bed and a few other things and we all head down to Cambridge to move me in. After three weeks of spending 2-4 nights a week in hotels, I am infinitely grateful that my current landlord offered me my pick of the furniture (he’s selling the flat and won’t need it for a new tenant) and infinitely glad I decided to take the beds. I sleep much better in this bed than anywhere else I’ve stayed recently, and it’s not just a matter of a familiar room.
I’ve just arrived home from the Toyota dealer — with a contract to buy a 2016 Yaris. (It’s a 2014 model, design-wise, but was first registered in 2016.) I had considered getting an earlier model for less money, but I looked at the emissions and the fuel efficiency and the road tax and the insurance rating and the length of warranty remaining, and I decided to go for the more recent one even though I think the front grille makes it look like Yosemite Sam. I settled on the color Toyota calls “Island Blue Metallic” (do all auto manufacturers come up with such romantic color names? My last Toyota was a dark green they called “Woodland Pearl”), chosen from similar ones because I liked the color. I had been to the bank earlier and arranged a loan (my bank was offering an interest rate even lower than Toyota’s lowest and was also willing to consider my US income), so I was all prepared.
I had been pondering whether to buy a car this weekend or next, considering that I won’t be moving house for another three weeks, and it turns out that doing it today was perfect timing. The dealer has to arrange the road tax, which they can’t do on a weekend, so I test-drove it and put down a deposit, and I’ll pick it up next Friday. I still have to arrange insurance, but the dealer offers a three-day insurance policy that gives me time to sort my own, and I’ve got a couple of quotes already that I need to pursue.
The sales guy was explaining the controls, telling me that they were all pretty much where I would expect them, from having had Toyotas previously. “Except”, I said, “that the gearshift is to my left.”
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…
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.
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.
I adore used-furniture stores. Whenever I go to the supermarket during the opening hours of the nearby British Heart Foundation Furniture and Electrical Store, I have a wander through, always wishing I needed furniture. Recently I’ve been gladdened to discover that there’s a good-sized one in Cambridge, although I haven’t been in it yet and I don’t know what kind of things it tends to have.
Well. Today they had a hutch whose tag said “£60, now £30”. Hmmm… At today’s exchange rate, £30 is less than $40. Hmmm…
I asked what was wrong with it. “Nothing,” they said; “it’s just been here for several months at £80 and we want to sell it.” It certainly appears to be in good shape. I don’t know how old it is, but that kind of rotating closure (see photo of detail) hasn’t been used in a good while. Plus, the piece is beautiful. So I thought about where I might put it in my Newcastle flat, and then I thought about how I’m looking forward to getting my own furniture that isn’t from IKEA… and then I thought about the prospect of putting down roots in the UK…
And then I bought it.
Only £15 for delivery, and I’ll have it on Monday. Even if it is an imitation, it’s beautiful and in good shape. Next purchase: furniture polish.
I looooooove used-furniture stores. :-)
Update: My cleaner, who used to work at an auction house, looked at it and said it’s a 1980s reproduction. He guessed £80 and agreed with me that it’s in good condition and that £45 including delivery was a good price. So I’m happy.