OPM in the United Kingdom - Day 1

The day before we flew was horrible, trying to pack a family of four into 8 humongous suitcases and a carry on each. We ended up letting the curse words fly, just hours after my hubby had walked at his graduation ceremony at UTD. Still, all was better later. Found out just 5 days prior that the arrangements for the cat’s transport had fallen through, so my husband changed his flight at the last moment to be able to accompany them on another flight per UK regs. We flew United into Heathrow, he arrived on American via London Gatwick, both by 7am. It took us until 1pm to meet up again at Heathrow, where by that time, I had lifted those 70 pound suitcases too much for my liking, and walked miles through that airport (and the one before, Dulles) The kids were crying with exhaustion by this time, but we got all the suitcases into the biggest vehicle they had for rent, with Hanna wedged between the luggage, and my 170 pound son sitting on his 160 pound father’s lap in the front seat!!I drove the stick shift (its been 10 years at least) the 30 minutes from London to Luton…didn’t do too bad and the road signs are great. Our first street into Luton looked like we were in Pakistan, even the businesses. We looked for a hotel and found one at $200+ a night, so then called Debbie (Joe’s wife) in desperation. She led us to a cheaper hotel where we immediately crashed until after 11pm. Upon awakening, my son and I went in search of food. Found a takeaway, but since it only took cash, I walked the 1/2 mile to the nearest ATM, got the cash, and had a nice meal of chicken kebab and chips. Ordered some for Mo and Hanna, then proceeded to get completely lost for one hour before ending up near another open take away. The friendly employee welcomed us to the “heart of the Pakistani community” and gave us directions back to the hotel. Woke up Mo and Hanna to eat, then crashed again.

Woke up late morning with the kids whiny for food. Since we knew where the Pakistani community was, went there again for food. Most take aways seem to be cash only, so we walked down to the bank to exchange some dollars. $2.06 for ONE pound. S*&t!!! Anyway, another really good meal, and the kids were happy. We had spoken with Debbie about meeting in an hour, but this somehow took three hours, so we called and met up with Joe and Debbie at the hotel. Met their four kids, who ran off to play with ours while we met the puppies (whom we are dog sitting). Two BIG balls of fur and very nice, even Mo petted them. Joe showed us some areas of Luton, essentials like the grocery store, and then back to his place. By this time, he had to whisk Mo to the train in order to make it to Heathrow for his flight out on to Bangladesh to visit his family until February 1st. Debbie made us a hotdog/hamburger meal and then we left them to their frantic preparations packing for an early am flight back to the States. Crashed again at the hotel, But tossed and turned all night thinking about the darn rental car. If I didn’t turn it in back at Heathrow, they would charge an extra $160 at any other location. SIGH.

Up at 3am, unable to sleep thinking about that car. Told the 13 year old to keep an eye out on his sister and drove the darn car back to Heathrow. The AVIS driver left me at the bus station, which, at 5:30 am was still not open, so I stood in the 30 degree drizzle with only a sweater until 6am…real prepared, eh? Took the bus to Luton and found NO taxis at the stand at the bus station, so I walked through the town centre until I found an NHS walk in clinic open. The nice lady at the desk called a taxi for me and I got back to the hotel by 8am, to the kids watching cartoons. Despite whines for food, I convinced them to pack up, got a taxi, and went to Joe’s house. Made a quick meal of eggs and potatoes, then crashed on the futon sofa until late afternoon!! I decided to get out and get some groceries to supplement (plus I didn’t want to eat up all Joe’s canned goods and stuff) so we headed to Tesco. Bought the kids McDonald’s to satisfy them long enough to shop and bought a few things, including my necessary Indian spices. Ate leftovers for dinner and the kids camped out in front of Nickelodeon while I sorted some of our things from the luggage. Crashed again, freezing our buns off. It gets dark here a bit after 3:30 in the afternoon, BTW. We are camping in the TV room and giving Ginger full access to her bed spot on Joe and Debbie’s bed, so she sleeps in the center of the bed. Do you know how SMALL the washing machines are here? Maybe half the capacity of the US!!

Woke up to Joe’s alarm going off at 5:30, thought it was a car alarm or something. WOW. Got it off, fed and watered the dogs and crashed again. Up SOMETIME later, exercised the pups and tried to sort things, first in my muddled head, then my bank account, future housing, etc. Kids are “Bored” and driving me nuts by fighting like cats and dogs. Speaking of cats, American shipped the cats on one airway bill, so there is a problem with their paperwork now, and the one cat, Snack, who was clear, is still being held. Our clocks are still off, so our sleeping is not quite right, but I’m driving Debbie’s car fine, and starting to navigate better.

Got up at a better hour today, to SUNSHINE!! Kids were watching TV and I pointed out they enjoy the sun when it comes. The puppies liked it too. It made everyone friskier. Found that Snack was clear, so we hopped in the car to pick her up in London, only to find a huge accident on the M-1 motorway. Crawled along for quite a while, but finally got going and got her, having to leave our other cat, Clintmeister in quarantine another 3 weeks. He is totally freaked, and I forgot his amitriptyline! Dropped Snack and the kids back at the house, made her a place where the dogs won’t eat her, and where I can clean up any hair and dander (since Debbie is allergic, yikes!) and headed off to Asda, the UK’s version of Wal Mart (and a Wal Mart subsidiary). Quite festive with bouncy Christmas music and the typical TONS of merchandise. I bought Christmas dinner (chicken and fixings since turkey is the equivalent of $30!!), some small gifts for the kids, and my much needed diet Coke. To give an indication of my increased activity level related to the move, and the increased walking, I’ve lost 10 pounds the last two weeks alone!! Great for my Weight Watchers! Spent a while there, then left with my purchases but still no Christmas tree. No lots on every corner here!! I’ve got to get a tree tomorrow, and I’ll feel better. I surprised the kids with a pizza and Coke from Asda and they were happy. We had figured out better how to stay warm and were doing better over all. Still up until almost 2am though. So far, general impressions: the housing is completely different, small and cramped compared to American housing, with steep stairs, small appliances, and tiny rooms. The people have been very nice to us so far. Adam continues to try to embarrass himself and me with his British AND Irish accents. We’re supposed to have gale winds this weekend, so I expect it’ll be much colder. The school is closed for the holiday, so I won’t see anyone there until registration/orientation on the 7th. I left a message for the other arriving OPM coming to St. Chris, but no word yet. No word, either from my hubby, to see that he made it okay to his family in Bangladesh. He’s probably having too great a time to call or email. I know how it is there. He’s also going over to India to visit more relatives, some he hasn’t seen in more than 20 years, so it’ll be an emotional time for him. Now if Bush will shore up the dollar some, I’d be much happier.

I apparently did NOT turn off Joe’s alarm, which went off again at 5:30 this morning. Fed the pups and turned them out for their morning spin about the yard. Stayed up with Adam (my son) and looked at housing on the website whilst having a slice of cold pizza for breakfast. When I got too cold, I went back to sleep, and am back up at 1pm. Talk about sluggish. Its raining and 31 degrees today. Kids got toast only for “breakfast” and I made a quick chicken stir fry for later. Out for the puppies afternoon constitutional and walkabout. In for the day then, to do the chore of laundry. Snack, our cat, is extremely lovey and seems thinner. She’s sleeping on our comforter. So far no scary encounters with her and the pups. Today is definitely an “in” day. Boring, I know.

Today we actually woke up early, to find our cat had somehow escaped out of the room (the door had gotton open in the night??) and we heard the dogs barking. Found her huddled behind the toilet upstairs, somehow she managed to make it without getting eaten. Once she was safely back in the room, we got around, called family, and my husband in Bangladesh, then went out for the day…kids to the cinema and me to the town centre for secret Christmas shopping!! I found out the DVDs here are in “region 2”, which means I can’t buy them here and use them back in the States and vice versa, though the sales clerks were VERY helpful in offering ways, illegal though they are, to bypass the system and make it multiregional. I think I’ll pass on that for now, but it was funny. Back in for the evening, since its dark by 4pm. We heard on the local news today where the gale winds that are supposed to hit here, had been in France, where flying debris decapitated a woman. WOW!!!

I know - I hate that the DVDs here in there in different format. I’m Polish, and for a long time I didn’t even bother buying movies from Poland. Finally I did and…you can always watch the movie on the computer. Any format will work. And we never have enough spare money to buy a multiregional DVD-player. I know Bestbuy offers them for over $100. I’ll get one at some point!

Kathy, you are so brave! I didn’t even want to leave Chapel Hill. I would have been institutionalized by now. Things will be better once you have your own place. Hang in there!!

I admire your determination in making your dream of becoming a physician happen. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us Your descriptions make me feel like I’m there with you!!

You might say, what happened to day 8?? Well, first thing, we slept until 1pm after staying up very late. By the time we got out, stores were closing (4pm!!) Egads! So we went to the town centre and looked at the Christmas decorations, got a faceful of the arctic blast, and took a good brisk walk around, until the kids were saying their legs hurt. It was nice to get out. Sheepishly went back to the same Pakistani restaurant for the 3rd time for dinner and brought home leftovers. They grinned when we walked in. I don’t want one of the guys thinking I have the hots for them or something!! Today I was up and about early and off to find a place to live. After a week at Joe’s, I’m thinking modern over English charm. Pried the kids off the TV and computer, aired out the house, got them to go out in the frigid air to play with Joe’s dogs, which the dogs loved, fetching the frisbee, sticks, and a rope toy. They loved it, and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet. My son introduced me to singingfish.com where I can type in most any song I think of, and hear it. I listened to lots of old Elvis Christmas songs, some other holiday music, and “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot. I LOVE that song! STill trying to find Bill (whuds). They aren’t answering at their room at the Travelodge and I thought some mutual support would be nice and to find out where they are in finding a place, etc. He’ll also be starting in January, and on th 28th, I’ll pick up a friend from Dallas who decided to apply after 90 hours of UGrad and will be starting in January as well. He will be our roommate here in the UK. Cheers!!

I have a DVD player where the region encoding is pretty easy to remove and is under $100. I haven’t need this “feature” yet, but I love that it will play just about anything (including perform PAL->NTSC conversion, though I’m not sure it does the reverse):
Phillip’s DVD Player on Amazon
Sorry for the tangent folks, but I am tech nerd. I can’t help myself sometimes.

Today was reserved for finding a place to live. Its a real process here. You usually find a letting agent who will show you places, whether townhouses, or flats, that are owned by individuals. Then you apply for the place, and have references checked. No easy rental history like apartment living in the States. Anyway, after looking at some dumps today, found a new townhome owned by a family. Now if they will agree to furnish the fridge, I hope to be in by next week!! (That is…after paying six months rent up front to the letting agent) Its a great location, across from a big park, close to the kids schools, and bicycling distance to the med school. I’m supposed to find out tomorrow if the owners agree or not. If not, its back to looking, knowing that they will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day, and that Joe and family are returning January 8th!! EEEKKK!!! Otherwise, now its a waiting game until classes start, as I peruse Joe’s Embryology text and do the review questions at the end of each chapter. Nothing like a tiny headstart.

After looking at some real dumps yesterday and deciding on a new townhouse, the owners decided they didn’t want me becuase I have kids. (Or more likely because I wanted the appliances furnished!!) No matter. I put down a deposit on another place in the same complex via a different agent today, at 150 pounds a month less, thats a good savings! I am hoping to get a place then right after the holidays if there are no further problems. I decided last night I will draft a welcome packet of my own for incoming students that provide much more of these nitpicky details for being here. If you come over cold, it would be a horrible shock!

It’s so exciting to read about your experience so far in England! Makes me wish I was there right now… (Also makes me grateful for my kitchen appliances, rememering how european apartments often don’t come with them.)
Thanks for keeping us posted. I’m looking forward to following along with you as school gets underway!
Happy holidays too.

Thanks for taking the time to chronicle your adventures in Luton, England. As you know, for many members, to become a physician they are going to have consider non-US programs. Hearing things first-hand from you guys (Kathy, WHuds & JP) may just help them in their decision making process.
I think, if you’re interested, once the new web site & accompanying diaries launch, we could certainly find a place for the adventures of “Kathy, Mo & Co. in Luton”

I’d be happy to input into a diary, otherwise, I’ll overload the thread with these entries!!!

Oops, went right through the 12th day, not really happy about not getting the townhome, knowing that Joe and family will be back the 8th. However, after talking with another agent on the phone and getting my holding deposit, it seems I’ll have a nice, new apartment with appliances by January 4th or 5th, just 3 days before they return and 5 days before school starts. Thank goodness I only have suitcases to carry in it!! FYI, this apartment is costing me the equivalent of $1300 a month for 2 bedrooms!! Now to find a bike to ride to school, as I could afford a car, but the gas prices will kill a person!! Adam is not wanting to get out and do anything at all (the 13 year old, after I suggested Christmas Eve in London!)I think he’s in veg out mode. Well, I’m going to leave him home today and take my daughter shopping with me to London today!!

Hanna and I spent the evening in London, looking at the lights, the beautiful old lighted buildings, double decker busses, it was great!! Had a small dessert in town before heading back to Luton. And I thought Dallas was huge!!It was great. Today we’re cleaning up the place as I got a reply back from Bill (whuds) that they WOULD be joining us for Christmas lunch tomorrow!! Yea, live conversation!! Finding ingredients has been challenging, and the cost of turkey is prohibitive, so they’re in for chicken and stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts (which I LOVE BTW), cranberry sauce, pecan pie (I’m going to try to make homemade with “golden syrup” instead of Karo), homemade Christmas cookies, and mince pies with brandy cream for a bit of British. I also bought a big bottle of some rum and tropical fruit “breezer”…hey whatever. But tonight we’re off to St. Joseph’s for the carol service then to bed to await Santa!!!

Never been to London. Would love to be there. Tell us all of your experiences!