Archive for the ‘travel’ Tag
“When I was an American, I ran as an American, I drank
as an American, I traveled as an American: but when I
became British, I put away those childish things.”
The application for your first adult UK passport is another boondoggle (see ILR saga and Citizenship). Having just been granted citizenship, this should be straightforward but that would be too straightforward.
For instance, Section 4 of the application (required only for your FIRST adult passport) asks for the names, dates of birth, nationality at the time of your birth, and date of wedding of your parents. Seems fair enough; and, if they have British passports you should also supply these details (mine did not and as they are rotting in hell this should be the full extent of the inquiry). But, no. As they were born overseas, I needed also to provide these details for my grandparents even though the application is based on my Certificate of Naturalisation and not on any claim of British Nationality by birth.
Additionally, I had to have the endorsement of someone professional or with other standing in the community that knows me well enough to pick me out of a crowd (or, as is more likely, to avert their eyes if they spot me across a crowded room). I know loads of people with letters after their surnames like DBE/KBE, FRS, PE or CEng, DPhil/PhD but most of the ones I would usually hit up were unavailable in the time I set aside to take this document to the Post Office. I opted for one of the professors I work for at Oxford and all he had to do was sign, date, and write this statement on the back of one of my photographs:
I certify that this is a true likeness of First Middle Lastname
Which he proceeded to do leaving out the word ‘true’ and my middle name. He also failed to date the photo (which I noticed and added myself hoping the other bits would go through). He also needed to fill in some personal details on the form in BLACK ink (which he did in BLUE ink then when I pointed it out he went back over in black). At the Post Office, they rejected the photo for those omissions, and the next one (it is my fault for not checking behind him) for leaving out the word ‘this’ then when I returned with my final copy of the photo done correctly the document checker was concerned that the blue ink might make the passport office reject the application. “But, there’s black ink on top…blue is only bad because it is transparent to the reprographics equipment they use.” I took a clean form, filled in everything myself, and got his signature on that one in the event the manager says that this one shouldn’t go in.
But, that’s only the start. Even though they have seen every pay stub and immigration document I have ever received since the day I applied for the job, have an iris scan, all my fingerprints, and letters of reference from the Chancellor of Cambridge University and a chaired professor at University of Oxford (who is also a Dame Commander of the British Empire) vouching for more than my identity but also my good character — even after all that and granting me citizenship — the passport office required that I come down to an appointment to confirm my identity based on info they have garnered from this application and a related credit check. They had my US Passport, my Certificate of Naturalisation, and access to roughly 5 kg of documents supporting applications for a Work Permit (starting late 2008), a Tier 2 Visa and 2 renewals, Indefinite Leave To Remain, Citizenship, a Patent, Work and Pensions documents, and specific dates for each house I’ve lived in and every trip abroad whether for work or vacation (and letters from University of Oxford and Cambridge University stating that they were aware that I was abroad during each of those periods away).
The interrogation — they call it an interview — was meant to be a relaxed thing and only in place to prevent identity fraud. So, I went in relaxed. My interviewer asked my full name and I gave her those and spelled each of them. I was probably a bit too relaxed from then on. For example:
“What is your occupation?” I started chuckling at that so before I could answer, she asked why.
“I’m a research scientist and engineer but I generally tell strangers I’m a rodeo clown or an underwear model. At best, I just say I work in a lab.”
After a pause, she said, “okay, then,” and briefly consulted her computer screen. “What does your job as research scientist entail?” I resisted, barely, the urge to say, “standing around in my skivvies while photographers and lighting techs work their magic.”
There were odd questions about the house we currently live in and the house we moved from; I tried not to give odd answers but I was already rolling at that point. Then, this came up: “now, I’d like to ask about your family. What can you tell me about your parents?”
“What can’t I tell you about them? My dad died in 2006, mom in 2004 but they were ancient and had never taken care of themselves so they were living in double overtime at that point.”
“They didn’t take care of themselves? Were they workaholics?”
“Ha! ALCOholics, but at least you were half right.”
“Oh, I’m very sorry, we won’t go there, then.”
“Noooo, you brought it up; this is for you.” I couldn’t contain my glee. “Mom was also on a warehouse of prescription meds. She was working dozens of GPs to get ‘scrips. I had a theory that she actually passed away 20 years earlier but the exquisite balance of pharmaceuticals, nicotine, and alcohol gave her the appearance of life or, at least, animation.” Nodding to myself, I added, “that would explain the weird noises she made.”
The Passport Office woman’s mouth was open as she stared, aghast. I clicked my fingers and she shook her head slightly. “Do you have any siblings?”
“Oh, well, there’s my sister but I disowned her and her whole felonious, white-trash brood and if I never see any of them again it will be too soon. What do you want to know about her?”
“That’s enough,” she answered too quickly. “One…sister,” she mumbled to herself as she typed.
A couple of questions later she seemed to have regained composure and asked if I could describe the process I went through such that I was now applying for a British Passport. “Do you mean the whole saga or just the bureaucratic hoops I jumped through?”
Wincing as she nodded and pointing at me with her pen, “yes, just the Immigration process,” then in the brief moment before I could continue, “please,” as though she were asking for mercy.
“Okay, but it’s a better story if I tell you how I decided to abandon America,” I offered.
“No, I’m sure it is, but no.”
“That’s a pity. Right,” and we briefly went through what I remembered of the applications submitted these last nearly 8 years.
At the end, she asked if I had any comments about the interview and I pointed out how I felt it was surreal. She replied, “really, you found this surreal?” so, I responded with a condensed version of the first part of this post about how they already have all this info on me having conferred citizenship just a few weeks ago. “Don’t YOU think that’s all kind of weird?”
“No,” she answered. “I meant to ask how it is YOU found this surreal.”
Her point was valid and I smiled broadly and shrugged. “You do these all day, every half hour?” I asked as I rose to leave.
She smiled and nodded. “But, not usually like this.”
That was just before 9 am Wednesday. My passport arrived just before 10 am Friday.
Flights from Bristol to Bremen require a plane change in Amsterdam and with the layover and the arbitrary airport nonsense it takes nearly as long (and is just as expensive) to fly to Bremen as it does (is) to take the train from Amsterdam Schiphol. The train requires a change in Hilversum and I decided to grab some pot for the journey and to have a few beers before continuing. I was a fan of the Lion when I used to catch the train back to Amsterdam Z.O. after long runs when we lived there so I stopped there for a little White Widow.
They have a sort of segregated smoking area, which is nice and convenient if a little weird (it is a glassed in room crammed with people while the rest of the house is kind of open). I guess it dates to the smoking (tobacco) ban in workplaces but it wasn’t like this in the old days. From there, I wandered up to De Kroeg for a few glasses of Jupiler.
Football (Ajax vs ADO Den Haag) was on the projection screen but a couple came in and asked for music and the bartender begrudgingly put on some really nice stuff including Dylan doing some blues. Everyone was a regular except me. And, the Jupiler was cheap and cold. Perfection. Plus, the bartender had an interesting shaped head and facial features that would have let him be cast in period dramas set in the bulb-eating days (or earlier); this thought crossed my mind, I remind you, after the first marijuana I’ve had in a year followed by 3 or 4 Jupilers (Jupileren?).
In Bremen, I dropped the luggage at the hotel then dashed to Shanti Shop (location 6 on the running map, below). Prepped for the week, the only thing remaining was dinner each evening and runs in the morning. Well, that and work but my colleague was doing most of that bit so I just had to show up and pay attention.
The runs and the walks are consolidated on the map, here, with the restaurants and some other sites also marked. The mileage added up like this
Sunday was a slow jog due to ice on the streets and resulted in 3.9 miles to the east (and to the head shop) and ended with a stop for a feast at Mexcal (“1” on the map), where I got a platter of mild Mexican food with a slight German spin on it, and a pitcher of beer (ice-cold Haake Beck).
Monday morning I headed up the Weser but in the dark I made stupid choices and found a dead-end just past Übersee Park. The run logged 6.5 (net 10.4) more miles in the cold (it never got past freezing, this trip).
The Monday commute saw some awesome colour in the sunrise and, after work, my work mate and I went to find an Italian place I regularly hit but, lost and too cold to keep looking, we opted for the first thing that looked good. I think his words were, “this MUST be good, there are scads of old locals in here,” which is how we came to dine at Kreta (#2 on the map); I had a meat platter, some sort of cabbage based salad, potatoes, tzatziki sauce…yum. The walks to the lab, to Kreta, and back to my hotel added another 6.6 miles (17.0 total) and took me past this odd sculpture:
Tuesday yielded another pre-dawn run on icy paths in the dark past the football stadium and on to the island (6.9 miles for the loop). This was the worst of the snow and ice days and the commute walk found me layered with snow. The evening was clear and the wind died down so I explored the abandoned town centre before taking a chance on Zui Yuan (3 on the map), where I was treated to some unremarkable but at least not salty Chinese (Szechuan beef and a bit soggy fried rice). The walks added 7.5 miles for 31.4 total.
Wednesday morning, the dark-time run went out to Weseruferpark where I still managed to find a dead-end peninsula (which is good since I logged another 8.4 miles and almost made myself late for work in the slow going). The commute and dinner hikes saw another 6.5 miles and some sunlight and clear skies in the late afternoon. For dinner, I did more Greek at the spectacular Plaka (4, where the Dolmides are to die for).
The lunches throughout were at the dining room of the business I was visiting; these are always good but also always kind of heavy (liver and onions with mashed potatoes and gravy one day, a giant burrito-like thing they called a Turkish pizza another). Sandwiches of meats and cheeses plus a little bit of fruit served as breakfast (I gain weight here).
Thursday morning I had a train to grab at 8:30 so I made a shorter (5.5 miles) run to and around Burgerpark which I believe is technically closed that time of day. It was a bit spooky and I think I rousted some rough-sleepers. With that, the Bremen runs ended on 31.2 miles (with the walks making the total coverage 51.8 miles).
The staff at the Greek places brought out ouzo with the beers and another round with the bills. They pour it like water — some older dude at Plaka kept coming upstairs and, on his odd gesture (he had more elaborate ones as he and the ouzo tap became more and more lubricated), another ouzo would be produced and in a single move he would pick up the glass, down the liqueur, and place the glass on the condensation ring it came from. Opa:
Oh, right…number 5 on the map is the Meisenfrei, an old favourite. They had some aging rockers on Wednesday night and — with nothing but travel ahead and gyros, kalamari, dolmides, beer and ouzo behind — I made a bit of an evening of it. Decent bar, could have used a better band.
Bitterballs and beer at Murphy’s Schiphol…heading home
For what it’s worth, today we have beaten the Statutes of Limitations on most felonies in the United States: 7 years and a day since we moved to England. Here’s the breakdown of this most recent year (noting that the annual run review already covered the calendar year 2015 so this will be a relatively brief look back at the residence year).
Speaking of residence, we were granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in June. I visited 167 new pubs (plus 10 in the new Irish category) and ran slightly more than 2515 miles (including 86 miles in one go). There were trips to Maastricht, Tennessee & Atlanta, and Ireland (where we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary). There were 22 new Fish and Chips entries to the blog (and 3 kebabs) but not a lot of experimentation in the kitchen (only 6 Recipes added).
Going into year 8 there are no goals, no major plans, and no great expectation of many new pub visits (unless we move house or I do a lot of travelling this year). Maybe I’ll try to write a little better…don’t hold your breath on that one, though.
Looking at annual recaps, past:
At 1 year, 290 pubs and impressions on British running, mostly in Cambridgeshire
2 years saw more maps (2000+ miles that year), travel, and 240 more pubs
3 years ended with 280 pubs and links about another house move
The 4th year ended with 255 more pubs, another house move, and some brilliant racing
Year 5 yielded 134 pubs, some decent travel, and yet another house move
The 6th year entry was very brief, but the anniversary kind of snuck up on me (only 95 pubs)
This is the first of the monthly updates after 7½ months of weeklies. Most recent previous weekly update, here and the following monthly one (October), here.
It was an eventful running month as I used my remaining holiday allotment (more than 3 weeks to burn by the end of the month) to keep my edge after the big race. The first half of the month was all UK but all over the South and near-West. Then, there were two weeks in the States. The next several months will be much more concise.
The month started with 4 days rest and recuperation after my Ridgeway Challenge survival which resulted in a badly inflamed talofibular tendon swollen the size of two fingers (but not full-blown tendinitis, more like a sprain or even a repetitive stress injury). A pressure bandage and immobilisation boot/brace helped as did some ibuprofen gel frequently rubbed into the area; ice packs a few times a day as well. I finally gave it a test run on the 4th and it was fine but every other complaint I had during the race screamed for further attention (pain in left IT band and right plantar fascia, sore hamstrings and quads, couple of lost toenails…the usual).
After four days off I had a bit of a run streak working my way up from a puny 3.4 miler after work Friday to XXX on Tuesday plus G-Hads on Tuesday and Wednesday. Monday’s commuter run to work was especially interesting, serendipity-wise: I had just lucked into a Keith Moon spotting in a film I was watching Sunday having just commented that Monday was the anniversary of his passing. The movie revolved around, in part, the main characters working in an amusement park and as I emerged from the meadows I was faced with the St. Giles Fair’s annual emergence:
I took a couple of days off the middle of the second week and rode to Heathrow with Jackie (she was travelling ahead of me to the States). She’s been applying for positions at some of the London universities and if one were to come through we would need to move somewhere convenient for me to commute and that we could afford. Ruislip, Hayes, and Uxbridge are top contenders but I decided to focus on Ruislip for this intitial scouting run. But, starting at Hounslow West tube stop I decided to see a bit of the landscape directly in the flight paths of LHR:
Hounslow looks like it was once a fine town but the houses generally seem in a state of disrepair. I really liked this art deco garage across from the Army barracks on Beaver Lane, though.
Moving north toward Ruislip, the area improves in noise first and then, just past Southall, starts to look fairly civilised…even ‘nice.’ Around RAF Northolt, there is a fine memorial garden to the Polish airmen that died during World War 2, and moving toward Ruislip I spotted the Bondage and Discipline Newsstand.
Who has been a naughty boy? I guess reading the Sun is punishment enough:
And, there was beer. Pub stops included:
The Earl Haig, Hounslow
The Three Horseshoes, Southall
The Black Bull, Ruislip
JJ Moons, Ruislip, and then on the second run (for the sake of the G-Had) there was
The Edinboro Castle, Camden, and
The Sheephaven Bay, Mornington Crescent
Left, Hounslow to Ruislip. Right, G-Had from Baker Street to Mornington Crescent
The second day off was devoted, in the first instance, to Dismaland but in the 6-8 miles I walked around Weston-super-Mare I seemed to have developed a blister on a toe and a possible stress fracture, both in my right foot which was swollen as badly as it had been at the end of the Ridgeway Challenge. But, there was more running to do as another great G-Had target was hashing that evening in Portishead, a town with a spectacular coastal path on the edge of a steep ridge and at least three decent pubs to take refuge within (the Windmill at the coast, and the Poacher across, more or less, from the Plough back in the town). The run here was gorgeous but did nothing for the foot injury and I limited the next day to walking.
Friday the 11th, I went to Abingdon to run a loop out to Drayton but the targeted pub, the Wheatsheaf, was not open. The run itself was pleasant, though, following the Thames and then cutting through an active quarry (gravel, so not too exciting). The Red Lion in Drayton was open, though, and once refreshed I was able to make it back to Abingdon where the evening led to more pubbing.
I mentioned the Tidworth fiasco of the 12th of September in its own write up, here. That was really the low point of the first half of the month although the Welcome Stranger 80% of the way through the run was a highlight of the Endless Pub Crawl. At 19.4 miles, this was the longest run, save for the Ridgeway, I had done in a month, too.
With the hand swollen from the Tidworth disaster and tendinitis flaring in right plantar fascia, right talofibular tendon, and both IT bands I did more walking than running the 13th (but still logging close to 7 miles) in and around Salisbury. The pubs are written up elsewhere (start with Deacon’s and follow links backward if interested) but I got a little extra tourism in, as well. For instance, one of the shortest streets in the city is Endless. Another interesting find was this plaque on the Debenham’s department store (they call their dining room the Blue Boar and I’m tempted to see if I can get a beer in there my next visit to town):
I had another short jaunt toward Wantage after my last day of work then up the next day to Bath for the Two Tunnels run which was published earlier.
The England section of the runs summed out at 86.2 miles over 11 of 16 days, with 3 of the rest days involving recovery from the Ridgeway run. The US trip involved 2 days of travel on either end plus one day of travel to (and watching) the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival as well as other days off so I only got 7 of the remaining 14 days in and most of those were short days resulting in 36.3 miles and 122.5 on the month…the least in a year.
The Bristol run, above, on the morning after the festival was in the dark which helped me find a quiet place to smoke some pot which, in turn, made me paranoid about taking the rental car across a state line not authorized in the rental agreement: State Street is the state line and I was carrying the car keys — I know the GPS was in the car but weed is a funny drug. I wound up making a loop with a flat top then laughing at myself and cutting the effort short.
Another good one was the Freedumb run the day Jackie’s nieces and half-sister showed up near the end of the visit. I smoked up the last of the pot and thought a bit about the previous 2 weeks with the soccer fields nearby in mind. All I could think of was stupid Americans and their obsession with “Freedom” without understanding the word in even the most abstract way:
My last run gave me the first squashy possum of the trip. There was a time when there’d be three-to-five a day on a stretch of road like the ones I jogged:
The t-shirt retirements that I used to map had fallen to the wayside but I had some ready to go. Oddly enough, one of them was planned for Debra because she likes Native American crap (and it was my original 30 Pack Marathon shirt) then she asked if I was still doing the t-shirt retirements by leaving them for people to find. Hence, on our trip out of the States I slipped these beauties (the Stroud Half Marathon and the Pewsey Half Marathon both from 2013) behind the bedding in our room at her place:
Back on the horse next month. Don’t-Stop-Tober for October.
No trip to Jackie’s mum’s would be complete without a stop by the Sequatchie Outlander‘s house. Photos from the 2008 and 2010 visits are at this link: https://1pumplane.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/usa-trip-dunlap-tennessee-in-general/
Always forward thinking and thought provoking, his yard signs are one of the best features of the Sequatchie Valley (if the stunning natural beauty of the place just isn’t your thing).
And, there’s always something new in the mix although the old favourites are still in heavy rotation.
Riddles? Koans? You really have to pause to take it all in.
As much as I would like to meet the genius behind all this fine work, I have opted to respect his privacy. But, knock on his door sometime when you’re in the vicinity…bring a bottle and some interracial gay porn and I’m sure you’ll find a warm welcome.
Only four pints into the day, I climbed the hill back to Wigginton from the King’s Arms fairly fresh and light of foot but, as it is fairly steep to come through the Tring Park the way I did, I felt hamstrings cramping and a tightness in my back and shoulders that needed treatment. Back in my room at the Greyhound, I tried some mild stretching then went into the pub for some, erm, liniment in the form of a pint of Black Sheep Bitter and continued the nutritional supplements (started at Wilson’s) by ordering an utterly delicious ½ pound burger with blue cheese and bacon and even more sublime chips than I got at the fish bar.
I thought it was a good sign that my approach to the bar earlier in the day involved a trip down Hemp Lane. I never expect much from a room in a pub (especially one so reasonably priced), so this one was a great surprise: clean, stylish, and a big bathroom (the only drawback being the water pressure). I was in there the night before the Ridgeway Challenge, an 86 mile A-to-B bit of insanity I had been prepping for since January and needed to be kind of close to the shuttle pick up point the next morning.
The pub was busy — even raucous — at night but the rooms are off the dining area and fairly well sound proofed. In the morning, I grabbed a few sweet snacks from the continental breakfast spread and greeted my next door neighbours from number 2 as they returned from their jog. “Nice running out these parts?” I asked, banally. “Beautiful but a tad hilly. Do you run?” Mr Neighbour politely inquired. “Not much, really. I’ve got a bit of a jog planned today, though.”
I’ve seen these structures for years but just assumed they were some odd Victorian remnant that survived the Blitz and urban renewal (such as the adjacent monstrosity that is the new Euston Station). But, no…not only are these the original gate houses for the station but now house the Euston Tap, one of the most fantastic real ale and cider venues in Greater London (keeping in mind that the Bree Louise sits just around the corner).
Choose the ale side, as did I, or brave the bus traffic to get to the cider house but do yourself a favour and make this a stop on your next London visit. The porch is grand for people watching, too, but the house draws in a steady crowd so don’t count on a quiet idyll.
I harvested a porter (one of about 8 of 28 cask/keg beers on offer) from the lads manning the copper sink and sat at a solitary table on the porch; soon enough, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of Man City supporters down from the North for a night of drinking ahead of the trip slightly north the next day to Watford…the sort of neckless footie fans that seem menacing enough sober: barrel-shaped, square-headed (except where truncheon dents are visible), and each at least 20 stone if they are a pound. Turned out to be lovely lads, and Watford is probably still standing since the Mancusians’ team carried the day.