17 December 2016

A Raffle!

Life, eh? Gets in the way of things and we have had new projects and the issue of trying to find jobs in the post Brexit Referendum EU environment. Hopefully I will get up a proper state of the gabsatrucker life post soon(ish) updating everyone about most of what's happened.  However a return to the US is in the cards in the New Year and very probably a return to trucking.

In the meantime, if you would like to win a custom artwork from the ever so fabulous Jackie of Treehuggery (I have written about her work in previous posts and we own a couple of pieces ourselves) and give us a hand as well please go check out the raffle here.

An example of Jackie's work in the size donated for the raffle. She can do runners, cyclists, snowboarders, Nordic Walkers, dog walkers...if you dream it she will do it!

It's only 5 bucks per entry and the drawing will be for the 18X43cm size (valued at 125-150GBP) and Jackie has including donating the shipping for free as well, framed in the UK, unframed everywhere else.  All the details about how to enter and when she will liaise with you if you're the very lucky winner is included in the GoFundMe post.

Be sure and get in quick, the deadline is the 22nd of December!

Also you can now follow the "us" vlog on youtube!

29 May 2016

Obtaining your UK driving licence

Essential Reading

One of the more frequent topics on the American expat facebook groups is about driving and obtaining a UK driving licence.  The GOV.UK site does a great job of explaining the process here but it always helps to have a first-hand explanation of how to do it.

A good thing to do before you move over here from the states is obtain a copy of your no-claims history from your current insurance company, the further back the better because motor insurance here can be astronomical! Having a copy of mine saved quite a bit of money--this can also be obtained by contacting their customer service but usually the sooner you obtain it the better that way any mistakes can be corrected.  For example I didn't realise that Geico had shown that I'd filed a claim when we had called in to find out what the insurance would cover when someone had gone on a brick-throwing vandalism spree in our neighbourhood a few years back and knocked out the back glass of my pickup.  We ended up not using the insurance and paying out of pocket but unfortunately someone had clicked the wrong button and I was only able to claim 3 years of no claims versus 7 years which would have saved an additional £200.

You CAN drive in the UK on your US driving licence for up to a year but making plans to get it earlier can save an immense amount of stress. I waited until the very last moment and really wish I hadn't, I was in a near-panic with trying to get everything done in the last two months left.

No matter how good of a driver you are, take lessons! It's not about learning how to drive for most of us but it's about unlearning habits that will fail us on the exam and learning what the examiners are looking for.  Also most of the instructors will be giving lessons on the actual routes used which will help minimise mistakes.

The first step is to obtain your provisional licence by starting here, I obtained the D1 application form from our local post office, filled it out, enclosed the money and appropriate sized picture, and sent it off to Swansea with my passport. It all came back well within the 3 weeks quoted on the site.  As a bit of a segue, if you haven't obtained your NINO (National Insurance Number) do so!

After you have received your provisional you can still drive on your US licence (providing you are still with your year) but it's time to start studying for the theory portion of the test. Don't expect to give it a quick read through a few minutes before the test and pass.  While some of it is common-sense the wording here is different enough that it will trip you up, there are also a fair bit of non-driving related questions from the Highway Code that will be on the exam.  I highly recommend getting a current copy of the DVSA theory test book or software.  There are also lots of practice tests available online, take as many as possible to review/revise.

Book your theory test! Don't forget to take along your shiny new provisional licence. Take and pass your theory test! Keep your copy of this safe because you will need to take it along with you for your practical

Now book your practical, depending on where you live it can be several months before the first opening but you are not limited to taking it at your nearest test centre. Do a search of the surrounding areas to find out if you can take the test sooner at a different place. I ended up travelling to one 30 minutes away in order to get it booked within 2 weeks rather than over a month.  Also you can check the website daily to find out if there are any cancellations to get it done quicker--you can change your appointment up to 6 times without having to cancel and rebook.

L aka Learner Plates

Remember when I mentioned taking lessons earlier? That bears repeating, TAKE DRIVING LESSONS! If you don't gel with the instructor, find a different one.  This driving test is stressful enough without having to deal with someone who you don't get along with, their job is to make you a safer driver for the UK and to do their best to get you through the test, not belittle or demean you.

 If you choose to take the practical in your own car (like I did) there are a few things to be aware of, like having the appropriate insurance, L plates, and a mirror for the examiner are only three.  Again check the gov site for further details.

In the worst case scenario if you fail your practical the first time (like I did), take an hour or three to wallow in it then look at what you need to practise to pass the next and immediately book the next available time after your mandatory 10 day wait (that's to take the test btw, not re-booking).  Again like before you can check daily to change to an earlier time--I ended up changing mine several times to get it booked for 2 weeks after not passing the first one.


My tips:  Study!!!!! Practise!!!! Practise your reversing, emergency stops, mirror checks, hill starts, and your show me/tell me items.  Next, relax (yeah, I know easier said than done). Exaggerate your mirror checks, talk through what you are doing as you drive, if you make a mistake, just keep on, you are allowed a few minors and if it's just a one time thing rather than a repeated mistake it probably won't count against you.

Hopefully this helps for those going through the process, please feel free to ask any questions. I wrote about my test experience here with all the gory details of why I didn't pass the first time. One thing I didn't expect was that when my motor insurance came up for renewal after obtaining my UK driving licence was that I was considered a 'new' driver again and had to shop around for a cheaper policy so be aware of that.

Good luck!

11 May 2016

May. May I stay please?

Can't believe it's been so long since I've posted an update but not much has changed and it does look like my time in merry olde England will be coming to an end soon.  It's been quite a learning experience and I've come to feel as much at home here as I ever did back in the states.  I've made friends and I do feel that in some ways I've contributed to the community but alas the home office has rules and they rarely break them unless heaps of publicity is garnered and I'm not quite sure I'm comfortable with that level of invasion into my life.  We're still hoping for a miracle before the first week of June but unless a wealthy relative kicks off and leaves me a fortune it's not likely especially since I don't have much in the way of family left.

There is so much I'm going to miss...the people both good and bad, the constant bird song, having four seasons in the space of an hour, the abundance of green spaces, canal path rambles and runs, driving that is akin to a slow speed video game, picking blackberries into October, saying hiya and grumbling about the weather while out walking the dogs and so very much more.

I will be updating the blog on a more regular basis with how I was able to assimilate and integrate while keeping true to my American self without (hopefully) being obnoxious about it :-)

03 January 2016

Goodbye 2015

Warning: This post will be somewhat on the negative side, so much so that I've dreaded writing it and even now am still debating on whether to put it out there.  Please forgive me in advance for the downer.

2015 is finally over and while I shouldn't be wishing time away I'm more than a little glad it's done and dusted. Don't get me wrong, there has been some amazing moments but the last few months have been extremely trying and stressful.  We finally managed to get our business up and running after several roadblocks but despite massive encouragement it seems to have hit the point where there is no interest whatsoever. Everyone who views the site agrees that it is great, the prices are very reasonable, and the work is sound but with our main camera needing repairs and replacing we can't do any photography work and the fact that quite a few people were used to getting the retouching and repair services for free from when the partner was honing his skills means there's not been any revenue generated from it since the summer.  Despite this a huge thanks is due to all who shared and helped promote our work!!!!!!! We can never thank you enough!!!!

However, the opposite goes out to a few naysayers who didn't believe we were 'working' because of being self-employed and working from home. There has been so MANY hours put in sitting at our desks going blurry-eyed dealing with html issues, research, and finishing up projects but because the partner has a habit of stopping what he was doing to talk to and engage with others to help with their issues when they requested meant that some of those very same people thought all he did was sit around and play about on facebook.  Of course they didn't keep those opinions to themselves and helped propagate that impression without mentioning WHY he was there to begin with--gee thanks. Despite his gruff demeanour, I am actually the one who has no problem saying no, we have other things to deal with first but he has this innate need to help other people as much as possible and usually without telling them what he has done.

So here we are facing 2016 with all of our savings and resources exhausted. I discovered too late in the game that absolutely no one will employ you in traditional employment with less than a year left on your visa and breaking the metatarsal in my foot back in October meant that I was out of my other work for 2 months (dog-walking and leading Nordic Walking sessions) which has put us even further behind.  The partner tried to return to trucking work on a temporary basis until he finds a more suitable position but we discovered that in the years since he last drove that another qualification has been put in place which of course costs money that we don't have.  It seems like it's a vicious circle of setbacks and disappointments and while I know we will get through this eventually, the present is extremely disheartening and our pride is taking a beating.

Again, apologies for the down and depressing post but this is where I talk about my life and this is our reality at the moment. I have so much appreciation for those that have helped us out with research, promotion, leads, emotional support, and temporary work, like I wrote above we can never thank you enough, xx. Here's to 2016 being a better year!