Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Some ranting, some raving, some celebrating and some news

A few weeks back we went to the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) society’s beer festival. Nina’s friends went down in the late afternoon on Friday and we joined them in the evening. The line was long and the weather was wet, but the mood in line was festive and we had a good conversation with the other people waiting with us.

Once inside Nina and I headed for the counter that supplied the Belgian fruit beer. Afterwards we tried some ‘true’ English ciders. Regrettably, we found them a little too earthy in flavour and I found myself preferring the mass-produced and far more generic brands like Bulmers which comes in a bottle and can be found in every pub in English. Except here. I was a little surprised to find out the CAMRA society also have a Vancouver chapter and a real Canadian presence.

The following weekend was the Geologist’s ball which was an interesting event. It took place in the Athena; Leicester’s oldest movie house, build in the art deco heyday which has since been transformed into a large venue hall. Everyone turned out in their fanciest of clothes; women in evening gowns and men in tuxedos. They served a tasty three course dinner which was managed by the Indy pit crew at the speed they put us through the courses. After dinner the music started and the DJ kept creeping the volume higher and higher. The problem was that half the attendees were undergrads and the other half were postgrads and professors. How do you cater an evening to people whose ages range from 20 – 50? It didn’t take long for the music to get to the point where it was difficult to hold a conversation. Nina and I called it a night after 11pm while a number of her colleagues kept partying until 5am.

A few weeks back we bought a new vacuum (a Henry) and printer. We did some research online to see which printer brands were the best and then shopped around at a few stores to get an idea of price. We found one we liked and at an electronics chain and required the help of a salesman. We found a junior salesman (junior in age, knowledge and IQ) who actually tried to convince me you only need to put the paper in close proximity to the slot and the machine sucks it in. I told him he was pointing to the place where the paper comes out and he insisted the paper went in and out through the same hole. I wasn’t having any of this and kept pointing out the implausibility of his ‘knowledge’. Eventually another salesperson came over and corrected Junior; showing him that paper goes in one side and comes out the other. At that point we just bought the thing, realizing any information they gave us had a 50% of being utterly wrong.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn our new 3-in-1 printer, scanner and photocopier came with ink cartridges. We were unpleasantly surprised it did not come with the standard USB cable required to connect it to a computer! Without that cable it was unable to function as a printer. Considering the cable was actually more expensive than the ink cartridges, we were a little miffed at Epson for not including an integral piece of equipment. On the box it was advertised as a printer. It’s can’t print anything if it can’t connect to another machine. Does Ford charge extra for the cable to connect the battery to the car? It’s seems to make about as much sense.

A couple weeks back Nina was out doing something (most likely shopping) when she found herself speaking to a clerk. He asked the usual question; “where are you from?” which is usually followed up by a secondary inquiry; “what brought you to Leicester?”

However, this guy took Nina off guard by asking “Why did you come here?” as if we had made a tragic mistake. She explained she had come to Leicester to do her PhD which didn’t satisfy him. He persisted; “But, why here?”

The following day I was at PC World buying a cable for our new printer. The cashier was of Indian decent and was likely born and raised in Leicester; in fact, I hazard a guess she had never been anywhere other than Leicester. I could tell she wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer when she made small talk by asking if I was from Ireland. I explained I was from Canada. Then she did to me what the clerk had done to Nina; she looked at me as if I was daft and asked why I had come here.

She caught me in a cheeky mood and I proceeded to explain to her that the Leicester tourism bureau advertises all across Canada telling us to come to Leicester. They spent millions of pounds promoted Leicester on the radio and TV. She was in shock. I told her I had moved here because I thought it was the place to be. She thought for a second then responded; “well… I suppose Leicester isn’t that bad.” I paused for a moment as I considered it might be cruel to leave her believing all this. I took my change and walked out deciding it wasn’t.
We all know the Canadian banking system is one of the best in the world. But, as Canadians, I wonder if you really appreciate the efficiency of your banking system, or do you just take it for granted? Having lived in three countries now, I can say, unequivocally, that I truly miss banking with Canadian financial institutions.

When I was living in Amsterdam I received a Canadian cheque which I wanted to deposit into my Dutch account. I went to my bank (the Post bank which is a branch of ING) to deposit it. I was told I had to fill out a form and then send it (with the cheque) via registered mail to a different branch of the bank. I told her she misunderstood; I wanted to put this cheque into my account. She got that and reiterated the instructions. I was mystified; did they not have an internal mail system to deal with this? No. Let me remind you, I was at the Post bank which is, as you would guess, the Dutch bank affiliated with the post office and they didn’t have an internal system for foreign cheques.

It cost me €12 for the registered mail and it took 2-3 weeks for the cheque to clear. Welcome to the backward banking system of the Netherlands. Fast forward one year to England. I went to Barclay’s bank to cash a Canadian cheque. I was ecstatic to learn they do have an internal mailing system. I watched the clerk fill out the form, put it in an envelope with the cheque before sealing it up for its journey. I was then asked how I would like to pay. I could either pay the smaller fee which meant I had to wait for the bank to receive the cleared funds before they appeared in my bank. Or, I could pay the higher fee to receive the money immediately. Since the smaller fee was already £16, I opted for that one. This occurred on February 19.

On March 19 I paid a visit to the bank. I was wondering if they had sent my cheque back to the Canadian bank on a row boat (I actually asked them this) as there was no other plausible reason for it to take a month. They told me it was usual for this procedure to take anywhere from 4-6 weeks since it was a foreign cheque, after all. Finally, after 33 days, the money appeared in my account less the £16.

I remember in the good old days when I lived in Vancouver and would show up at Vancity with a foreign cheque. They would charge me the standard $1 cheque cashing fee and the money would appear (magically) in my account 1 week later. So no matter how frustrated you may get at Canadian banks, do take a moment to realize it can be (and bloody-well is) worse elsewhere.
I have been really busy working the past couple of weeks which has resulted in me forgetting to update my blog until today. However, it is fitting that I am posting it on this day (31 March) as it marks the 2 year anniversary since I arrived in Europe to live. What was supposed to be a 9 month adventure has turned into a life here which is already in its second chapter. It’s funny how things work out.

I like the spring; the flowers are poking through, the temperatures are rising, the birds are twittering and it’s a great time to go to New York! Shawn had a trip planned to take in a concert and visit some friends there. After being unsuccessful in finding anyone to go with him, it occurred to him that it was actually the halfway point between him and me. So I decided to go and we will make a week of it. As it happens, the concert is one that I really want to see as well and while he is visiting his friends I will take in some of the museums New York is famous for. Shawn has been there once before, whereas it is my first time. We are going to stay in Manhattan in a hotel overlooking the Museum of Natural History. We are still deciding what we want to do as a week is enough time to get a sense of NY, but we will clearly not have enough time to do everything. So far we have decided we would like to take a ferry to either Ellis or Liberty island, go up the Empire State building, see Times Square, spent time in Central Park and (obviously) eat in Little Italy. Perhaps we will take in a show. Whatever we do, we will have a great time.

After NY, I will be back in the UK for 6 weeks before leaving on my trip to see Dad, Marie & Andrew in Barcelona and then spending the next couple of weeks on the Med. Then, I will be back in the UK for another 6 weeks before leaving for Vancouver in early August for dad’s 70th. And, 6 weeks after returning, Nina and I will be going to Austria in September to celebrate her dad’s 70th birthday. I love travel season!

For the next 4 days we are entertaining Nina’s parents who are arriving on the train any minute now. We will show them around and do a few day trips. It should be nice; they are our first visitors. I best be off to train station to greet them.