There are many things that come to mind when I get into my little car. The very FIRST thing I notice is that I'm sitting in the passenger seat for some strange reason. I've only done that a few times, and it's quite embarrassing I must admit. So the rest of this post is assuming I've now gotten in the OTHER side of the car, where the steering wheel is. Also, I STILL find myself reaching to the right to unfasten my seat-belt every time I park...but of course it's not there. It's over on the left, by the emergency brake. Looking up and to the left for my rear-view mirror also still befuddles me. The view is somehow odd and foreign...in all honesty the overall view is probably identical....can't really explain it, but even though I'm now fairly versed in being on the other side of the road, in my mind something is still wrong when I look back thru the mirror. However, I've noticed as of this morning that I'm not freaked out even a tiny bit anymore about which side of the road I'm driving on. I can actually let go of the wheel momentarily to hit a button on the Nav system (which CONSTANTLY gets "Traffic Updates" which require you to hit a spot on the screen to put the volume back to 'normal' rather than LOUD). It seems no road (that I've been on yet) is straight for more than a few hundred yards. And even if straight, there's holes and such, along with a curb (or a rock wall) a mere foot or two from the left side of the car. And even tho I've now adapted to which side of the road I'm on, it still feels very odd making a left turn but me sitting on the right side...as I have no idea where my left wheels are (and I constantly hit curbs..thankfully I'm not the only one, there are tire marks all over all the curbs).
Also of note (I thought of this when out walking around just a little bit ago)...seems every street I come to cross, I'm looking the wrong way for the dangerous zippy-cars. It's just hardwired into my brain I guess...come to a street, look left. But here, looking left is for the cars on the OTHER side of the street...it's the right that will kill you. Looking to the left as you aren't even thinking about it and stepping out...DANGER Will Robinson, DANGER! I've had a few rather close calls (probably scaring the drivers too I'd imagine). The cars coming from your RIGHT are just feet to inches away, and sometimes moving quite quickly....and they are surely NOT expecting me to step out.
Another thing I've noticed as I wander around town: I'm the ONLY person wearing a coat of any real color. Not sure what's up with that....is this some strange town where color is forbidden? Seems that EVERYBODY (but me) is wearing drab colors...blacks, grays, a VERY FEW blues, and some browns. I stick out like a sore thumb every time I go out in my YELLOW coat...if there was ever a hit man looking for me in his sniper scope, I'd instantly be toast. And it's not like my coat is anything crazy either...it's just your basic off-yellow Columbia shell w/ a zip in liner for temperature adjust-ability...(it's my snowboard jacket). The OTHER jacket that I brought to wear when it's a tiny bit warmer is my cycling wind/rain shell (that I got just for this trip): it's BRIGHT red. I wear that over my green Edie Bauer hoodie and I'm good down into the 40's, high 30's...and let me tell you...the red stands out even MORE brilliantly than the yellow. Who knew I dress like a stoplight? As I walk around I notice people looking now and then...and I feel like I'm an outlaw or something.
And having nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of this post, I've been watching Rugby now. There is the Six Nations thing going on, and every weekend there are a few games. Last Saturday night at the pub I watched England vs Scotland, and on Sunday I watched Ireland vs Wales. I've got a so-so concept now on the rules and objectives, tho some things are still a bit iffy. Seems the sport isn't immune to the "bad call" either. The Ireland/Wales game was changed at the very end on a bad referee call (well, the announcers thought so, and in my GINORMOUS Rugby experience I had to agree). And Irish tackle'r somewhat lifted his opponent off the ground, but only by one leg, and the dude he was tackling had his arms on the ground...yet the ref called it a 'dangerous tackle' and gave Wales a free kick. He nailed it, and being a penalty kick they got 3 points for it (typically the kick is only worth 2). About 10 minutes before this one of the Wales guys picked up one if the Irish guys and slammed him on his HEAD much like in the crazy cage matches that are the rage lately. He got a 10 minute penalty and was sent to the "Sin Bin" (penalty box like in Hockey...and his team is now down to 14 players vice the usual 15) Anyway...THAT was a dangerous tackle! He could have KILLED the guy, and was only given a 10 minute rest for his transgression (the announcers couldn't believe he wasn't ejected from the game). Anyway, it was a 1 point lead for Ireland until the Wales penalty kick, and about 30 seconds after that the game was over. BOOO! HISSSSS! BAD CALL REF!!! Rugby is a MANS GAME! That wasn't a dangerous tackle...oooh...did he get his hair ruffled (like some of the NFL QB's)??? Of course, the prob w/ any penatly is that it;'s the Ref's decision, based on his view. Part of the game. One of the guys I'm working with here is a local (he's from Bath) and he was explaining the Rugby stuff to methe other day. Things such as the player positions (they're actually numbered 1 thru 15), why the diff in their sizes, where/how they line up in the scrum, what a ruckus is, line-outs, and all the other stuff I didn't understand). I need to write down any questions from this weekends games so I can elevate my Rugby-Q! I'm actually really liking the game! And the Six Nations guys are pretty much the best on the planet I gather.
OK...what else. Oh...this morning driving in. Cold. Rained just above freezing last night. Then froze. Black ice EVERYWHERE! I took it very cautions going on....thought I had it licked....turned off the main road as I'm close to work....blue flashing "Police" sighs at the turnoff...(meaning take it slow on the side road). It was VERY icy. Up over a tiny hill, still going slow...about 30 maybe. Slight downhill to the left turn, another flashing blue sign this time says "Icy". Slowing, slowing, gently tapped the brakes, and suddenly I'm sliding. I shot straight across the intersection and slid another 50 feet or so....thankfully there were no other cars coming from any direction as I had NO control. NOW I understand why the rock walls on all the sides of this intersection are all battered and broken. It's quite the dangerous intersection. And I was even warned about it. I learned to drive in Montana...no snow tires (ever)...however, snow and black ice are two totally different animals. Snow is no problem..and front wheel drive cars are equivalent to a tank. Black ice is bad ju-ju. Only studded snow tires would help on that..and I don't think they use them here. Many years ago when I was up in Norway in the winter, the rentals come standard w/ 4 studded tires. Suddenly the front wheel drive car is a TRUE tank on the road! It was even hard to make a emergency brake-180 like I learned to do back in Montana! Those studs really grab the road, however they really tear it up when there's no snow. And I take it they don't get THAT much snow here.
Anyway....it was a long week....my neck is very sore from the work I've been doing (fiber optic fusion splicing...many hundreds of them, with many many hundreds left to go...pretty much it's all 'bench work', so I'm looking down the entire time). And it was also a frustrating week. To update you on my bike situation: it's being held for ransom by the UK government. Or more specifically, Her Royal Majesty's something or other (starts with a C). I think I mentioned I got a letter last Saturday from the mail service here, saying that I owe a total of 424 pounds for my bike to be delivered (I already paid the postage). Most of that is VAT (Value Added Tax), and the rest is Customs Duty. I had called the number provided, and the lady there quickly referred me to the HRMC website. From there I FINALLY found a place where I could send in an email query, which I did. I explained my situation: that I'm here on US Gov orders (for the Dept of the Air Force), and explained that I'm only here for 3 months, and that the package contains MY bike, which is over 3 years old and has many thousands of miles on it. I shipped it only because the airlines constantly damage my belongings, and never dreamed it would become a huge tax burden for me. Well, on Thursday I got a reply (took less than a week amazingly enough!) and the person expressed sympathy for the misunderstanding (taxing my personal property) but said that I should go ahead and pay the fee and try to get it back later (admitting that I might never recover my money). If it were a reasonable amount, I'd consider. But the 424 pounds comes out to around $640, which is quite a bit. NOT GONNA HAPPEN!
So...in the email reply the HRMC rep said that it wasn't THEM that is responsible for the levy...it was the UK Border Customs Agency who is the devil. SO, I found the online form I needed (to mail in my request for review of the levy), and FINALLY found someone to print it for me (I have no print capability here). Got off work at 11am again (Friday...hooray!), spend a hour talking to various people on base (making sure it's ok for me to mail in a copy of my orders with the form). Seems I'm good to go, only it seems I'm on my own. I was hoping somebody at work would step up as my champion and have some sort of secret weapon (such as a friend in high places)...but alas no. So I filled out my form, explaining that the bike is my personal property, and I'm only here temporarily on Gov Orders, and that I leave (hopefully with all my property) on 20 April. Included a copy of my orders, then found a post office, and viola....48 pence later it's in the mail. No idea how long this will take, but after 21 days the postal agency says (in the original letter) that they will return it to the "Sender" (ie: ME!) if the fee is not paid. So we will see what happens.
The maddening part of all of this? One of the guys I traveled with is here on his FOURTH trip. He knows about the APO. For those who have never been in the military, APO stands for "Armed forces Post Office". As in: a US POST OFFICE right on base! Had he MENTIONED they had an APO (he has used it each time he's been here to mail home all his extra stuff), I could have averted this entire mess AND had my bike waiting for me when I arrived. But no. And HE was the one who gave me the address of the apartments, as he mails HIS stuff right to the apartments each time he comes. I guess HE has never been slammed w/ a customs bill before. And the APO would probably be at least half the postage. But hey...that's sour milk talking. I'm just upset cuz my beloved Ritchey Breakaway is sitting in jail, a mere 30 miles or so away (in York). And quite honestly I don't know how this will turn out. I don't believe taxing me on my pre-owned personal possession seems wrong...but that doesn't mean it will be changed. In which case I'll have them go ahead and return it, and depending on what MONTH it is when it gets back to Calif, I MIGHT have Jeannie re-mail it to the APO. Maybe by then the weather will be worth riding in. I'd be WAY more upset if it were great riding weather right now. As it is, I've got time. And I'm quite stubborn. There are mules out there going "don't mess w/ THAT guy...HE'S STUBBORN!"
And so. Another week has passed. For the first time in a LONG time, I'm smack in the middle of an actual winter. But my flat is warm, and my car is good. I just miss Jeannie and the babies. And my bike (s). But I'm such a whiney-baby.
Oh..speaking of toasty warm, I HAVE to tell this story! Last weekend in my wandering I found a kitchen stuff store. Woo-HOO! I bought me an oven thermomenter! I am THE KING! And BONUS: It has both Centigrade AND Fahrenheit scales on it! So NOW I can cook pizzas and chicken pot pies, and french fries, and tater tots, and my Gortons Fish Filets at the CORRECT TEMPERATURE! What a THOUGHT! So...Sun night I tried it out w/ a Marie Calendar Chicken Pot Pie. MMMMMM! Had the oven warming up, watching the dial. Gets up to about 300F and I can't get it any hotter. A few minutes later I put in my pie....still sitting at 300F (which is 150C). I keep inching the oven dial up, not getting any hotter. Figure it's my tiny oven, maybe it won't go any hotter than 300. I was wrong. Seems I bought a faulty unit. After an hour I check my pie. The crust is BLACK, CRISPY, CHARCOAL. Rats. Stupid thermometer. Peel off the top and the rest is edible. Later after the oven cools off, my stupid thermometer STILL says 300! So I took it back today and got a new one (still had my receipt). I only THOUGHT I was the king...but I wasn't. Until NOW I mean! Yes...I can NOW cook my frozen dinners at the RIGHT TEMP! I am SUCH a stallion! There's just NO STOPPING ME! (unless you charge me VAT I mean).
OK. Off to the weekend. Here's hoping you can cook your fries n stuff at JUST the right temp!