Category Archives: expat

my experiences with becoming a UK resident

Brakes & Clutches & Gears – Oh my!

So I used to live in the typical insular American world of learning to drive when you’re 15, getting license through a high school driver’s education program, and proceeding to drive though life with a car performing the duties of another blood-fed limb on the body. I had driven all but two weeks of my life since obtaining that treasured wallet card. It proved I was of legal age and skill level to drive a vehicle, as well as proving my height and weight would go unquestioned by all who saw it during 50 lbs of fluctuation, (about 3.5 stone) for years and years. 😀

I had a license, a car at my disposal, and the lust for driving in my veins.
I had but one obstacle to haunt me later in life… I was never taught to drive a manual transmission.

Now, in America, that’s not a big deal. Most of the cars I’d been exposed to were automatic transmissions. Rather than taking me under her wing and instructing me on the ballroom artistry required to manoeuvre three pedals with two clumsy feet, my mother sold her sporty manual transmission car before I got beyond my learner’s permit at age 15. Oh well. I could just have automatics forever and not worry about it, right?

Leap forward to 2004. I moved to England last November. Nearly every car I’ve encountered here is a manual. I have gone almost 20 years with driving nothing but automatics. I drive automatics really well. I’m an efficient and skilled driver. (no matter what my mother says… 🙂 ) Now I find that my comfortable and nourished additional “limb”- a car- has been amputated and I’m offered only overly complex and seemingly inefficient alternatives- none of which I have the skill set required to operate. I feel like someone has asked me to install a Satellite dish for them but instead of a ladder, they’ve given me a crane…

Today I had my first lesson in the symphonic art of manual transmission manipulation. I learned when a clutch “bites” and where revs turn to forward propulsion. I stalled, killed and irritated that clutch. It let out a smell by the end of the lesson. But, to my surprise, I did manage to get a few good laps around a small industrial estate and a level of confidence crept up to meet me from cellar it had been locked up in. There was one rather unexpected emotional bit when I first started and killed the car: I’d forgotten the fear and helpless panic I felt when I had my motorcycle accident last year. It was my deer-in-the-headlights realisation that I was responsible for making a potentially harmful/deadly machine move and stop under my control that brought back a flood of buried emotions that I was not prepared for. I wept briefly, remembering what it was like to freeze, panic and ultimately jump off of a motorcycle going around 25 miles per hour- landing me bleeding into a hospital emergency room doped up on morphine. I dried the few tears from my eyes and drove the fucking car. I made a substantial confidence shift from fear to just being new at something within a quarter hour or so. I will drive a manual transmission. I will.

If I don’t… (you may be wondering why I don’t just get an automatic here)… then the UK will not license me to drive anything but an automatic. If there’s one thing I hate more than being new at something, it’s being restricted.

Vroom, vroom… next week, I drive some more. 🙂


Try not to touch anything in the waiting room…

Now, when you’ve been through as much medical mire as I’ve been through in the past few years, you tend to get good at the whole “Hi my name is Jen and here’s my canned history” speech. (For those not in the know, I’ve got mild asthma, nasty allergies, ADD and am a cervical cancer survivor.) So, I had the chance to run it down again… this time to a doctor here in England.

National Health isn’t too bad, judging from my brief experience with it today. Although the help behind the counter has left me wondering how they keep their jobs, the doctor was pretty cool. Friendly, good handshake, reasonably cluttered office… all in all, a good fella. Best of all, he was easily impressed by my preparedness. I brought all my prescription meds with me so he could get names and doses (though I don’t even take most of it anymore), had a printed multi-page summary from my previous General Practitioner with his business card, and was able to communicate, in multi-syllabic medical terminology, my recent history and what I’m doing with myself. I even gave him my weight in stones, not pounds. He was clearly pleased to have an articulate and aware patient. I left feeling good about the meeting and await my first OBGYN appointment on foreign soil.

I’m sure it’ll be the same type of examination as it was in the US, and I’m hardly shy about spreading it for the doctors. You get used to it after cervical cancer. They see you every couple of months, then every three for a couple of years, then wean you down to every six months. I had my procedure done at a University Hospital, therefore I not only had the pleasure of frequent visits to the ‘snatch-ologists’, but oftentimes would have the examination done by two at a time. Now, one would normally think that it could be kinky fun to have so many interested parties focusing on your naughty parts, but I assure you, two vaginals and two rectals per visit is hardly a proper threesome. 😉 It’ll be nice to be down to a single doctor again.

So I’m registered and I even like my doctor. I am well on my way to the full expat experience. Now, I just need to learn how to drive… I should’ve at least learned how to drive a manual in the states… argh… (*sweet voice ensues*) “Neil? Can I grind the gears on your car?” heh heh… (At least the doctor is within walking distance! *phweew!*)