Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mr. Selfridge, season 2

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The second season of Mr. Selfridge aired in Winter in the UK, but it just finished airing on PBS in May. I really like this show.  I think it strikes an excellent balance of drama and enjoyment. Though bad things happen on the show, there is a sense of optimism about it that sort of matches Mr. Selfridge’s (quintessentially American) sense of possibility. Of course, the real story of Mr. Selfridge is far less joyful. By the end of his life, he had spent a fortune on dancing girls and mistresses, was ousted from his position in his own store, and died penniless. Apparently he used to come to the store, every day after he’d been sacked, and just stare up at it.  That makes me so sad.  So I will pretend none of that happened and embrace the much happier story presented on the show.

The second season (series) begins at the 5 year anniversary of the store’s opening. There are some big changes among the ranks at the store.  Agnes Towler has just returned from Paris and has been made head of displays, a big promotion. Mr. Grove has something like 5 children with his sweet uncomplicated wife, and is slowly becoming more and more lost and unhappy in his choice. Good. He is a berk. Miss Mardle, who was jilted by Mr. Grove, has taken the opposite trajectory in life. She has inherited a small fortune, and soon catches the attention of a very young, very attractive Belgian violinist.

mast-selfridge2-bts-mardle-chocolateThis change in balance between them makes me extremely happy. Life rarely turns out this way, but oh don’t you wish it would? Everyone who ever hurt you regrets his/her decision, and you don’t regret it at all. You’re much better off. Lovely.

Over the course of the season, despite it being only 10 episodes, a lot of shit goes down. Harry and Rose are estranged at the beginning of the season, because of his philandering in the past. He wants desperately to earn her love back. Eventually, he does. I really like Rose. I actually like almost everyone on this show. Except Mr. Thackeray and Lord Loxley. But more about them in a minute.

WWI breaks out a few episodes into the season. It’s an interesting perspective from which to see the war. Mr. Selfridge and his family are American, and of course America had not yet entered the war. His loyalty to England is questioned, even though Harry wants to do what he can. We also see the experiences of other non-English people. Victor and his cousin (or brother?) are Italian, and feel a keen sense of growing xenophobia. Two things take up the minds of the lower-class men that work at Selfridges–labor unions and the war. Nearly all of Selfridge’s men enlist. The result is (hold on to your monocle) young women working in the loading bay and warehouse. The big scandal of the series involves Lord Loxley, Mr. Selfridge, and some inferior boots given to the army.

So now is a good time to talk about Lord Loxley. He’s Lady Mae’s husband, and the single most odious man to ever appear on the show.

44746He is violent, manipulative, super creepy, and entirely lacking a soul of any kind. Lady Mae can occasionally seem manipulative and cold, but as soon as we see her husband, we realize that she is entirely justified, and entirely victimized by him. Despite being a strong, smart, independent woman. And even if he wasn’t abusive to her, he would still be blackmailing government officials, profiting from war, endangering the health of enlisted men, and blaming it on Harry Selfridge. He is truly awful. In a way that makes your skin crawl when you think about him, particularly if you are a woman.

Much of the season shows Lady Mae attempting to extricate herself from his clutches. Keep in mind that at this point, a woman could only petition for divorce if she could prove adultery AND could prove another form of cruelty (rape, incest, abuse). And I mean prove it, as in eyewitness accounts. So Lady Mae cannot work within the law, but she does work with Harry Selfridge to prove Harry is innocent and that Loxley is guilty. I know real life isn’t like this, but I do enjoy a show that lets me think that things can turn out right in the end.

My only real complaint about this season is Agnes.  She was so strong and interesting in the first series, learning new things and trying to become more competent. This season, she is facing a bigger challenge, of course. She is the head of displays, and is often working very late hours by herself. That’s all fine–showing a woman working hard, or even a woman trying and not quite achieving her lofty goals is interesting and fine. My big problem with her this season is that almost all of her emotional changes come not from herself, but from men.

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The most action and perseverance we see from her character is when she is attempting to prove Henri Leclair innocent of the crimes he is accused of (at first, espionage, and then theft). She is strong and capable in those scenes. But the rest of the season she is merely reacting to the actions of the men in her life.

Shortly after she returns from Paris, Victor Colleano asks her to marry him and she says yes. Even though I’m not certain they were actually dating at the time. Henri is being rude and curt with her, and I wonder how much of his actions weighed into her decision. Her brother George enlists and heads out to the front–this isn’t a situation a woman, or anyone can control, so I don’t fault her for this, but it adds to the number of scenes where she is just waiting for a man to do something. He is missing in action for a while, and she fears the worst, but he eventually returns and she can relax.  Victor, who is a very nice person for doing this, realizes that a life with him won’t make her happy. Her talents would be wasted as a wife and helping him in his family restaurant. He knows that Henri still loves Agnes, and that Agnes still cares about Henri. So he lets her go, ends their engagement. This is very nice of him, but it’s yet another example of the men making decisions for Agnes, and of her having little control over her own life. Of her asserting almost no control over her own life.  And considering how strong she was last season, I was disappointed with that.  But, at least they didn’t have her get married and have kids and have no other role, because that sounds nauseating. I’m hoping they’ll give her a little more proactive and assertive actions in the third season.

Yes, they’ve renewed for a 3rd season (series), and I believe they’re already shooting it. It’s not a challenging show, it falls firmly on the entertaining side of the drama pendulum (rather than the realistic end of things), but it is entertaining. A lot of shows firmly throw away any semblance of reality in favor of entertainment, but still miss the mark. I think Mr. Selfridge is a very good balance of realism and optimism, so I’ll keep watching.

 

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The Bletchley Circle (season 2)

91cMb90PWAL._SL1500_The 2nd season (series) of The Bletchley Circle ended a few weeks ago on PBS (it aired in January in the UK).  I really like this show, though I’m never catapulted out of the ‘like’ category into the ‘love it/need it’ category. I think that is because the ‘season’ is so short (3 episodes in season 1, 4 episodes in season 2), that I never have a chance to get really into it. Unfortunately, I won’t be seeing any more episodes, as the show has not been renewed for a 3rd series.

I remember talking in my last review about the importance of seeing strong and smart women, working together in a world (1950s Britain) that at best, underestimates them and at worst, subjects them to violence and abuse. The second season didn’t shirk away from that.

The season begins with a new character.  Alice.

HattieMorahanB_1Alice (apparently) worked at Bletchley, though not all of the season 1 girls knew her.  She has been accused of murdering a man, and has not put forth any defense, ergo she will be hanged. Jean is convinced that she is innocent, and asks the other girls to help her prove it.

Susan, after the danger she and her family were in during their last escapade, is reluctant to help.  It quickly becomes apparent that Alice is innocent, and also becomes apparent that Susan will be leaving the show and Alice will be brought on as the resident slightly-rude code genius. It’s hamfisted, but what can you do with 4 episodes? Seems like they could have kept Susan around for 2 more episodes, before sending her off somewhere.  This is the part that bothered me the most about the second series.

During these first two episodes, we see that Lucy is now working at Scotland Yard, and Millie is working as a German translator.  How strange it must have been to stop fighting the Germans and then almost immediately begin doing business with them again.  And only a decade or so later, the beginnings of the EU. Strange to think of. The wars I’ve lived through, from the US, have only been with countries that were a-geographically distant, b-with vastly less powerful armies than ours,  and c-of almost zero importance to our economy. (Western) Europe is so small compared to the US that it might be easier for me if I imagined the end of the civil war, and returning to normal trade and travel among the different states. Millie finds it odd herself, making such an about face. Working with people who had probably been Nazis.  And they had no idea, but she was one of the women who helped break their codes and interrupt their plans.  *Insert vague idiom about strange bedfellows*

The first two episodes revolve around saving Alice from the gallows, and uncovering a government experiment with chemical weapons, used on soldiers. Lovely. I vastly preferred the second two episodes, but they also made me uncomfortable and angry.

In episode 3, Millie is abducted from outside her apartment. She wakes up in a strange room, held captive. Millie has been using her connections and her skills to sell ‘black market’ goods that were hard to get during and after the war. In England, unlike the US, the ’50s were not a time of prosperity and consumer freedom. War rationing continued for nearly a decade after the end of the war. Millie seems to mostly sell perfumes and cigarettes, nothing dangerous or damaging. She works with a partner, Jasper.

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Here’s the thing. Millie is my favorite character. She is the strongest, the bravest, and the most confident of all of them. She wears pants (get your pearls ready for clutching), she travels alone, she lives on her own, she holds her head up and walks with purpose. This in a time of our history and a place in the world where women were still very much expected to be quiet, modest, maternal, and submissive. If I had been alive at the time, I’m hoping I would have the strength to be like her. I’m saying this because I want to explain how a part of this episode really affected me.

Millie is taken in to see a woman, Marta, who was supplying Jasper (who was supplying Millie). Someone has stolen from Marta (spoiler, it was Jasper, because of course it was), and she’s going to take her proverbial pound of flesh from one of them.  Jasper claims he can repay the money, and is given a chance to do so. Millie manages to talk herself into freedom, proposing she works with Marta as she worked with Jasper. Essentially she wants to cut out the middleman.

Only Millie does not in any way want to work for Marta, because she has just discovered that in addition to cigarettes and perfume, Marta imports girls. Young girls from behind the iron curtain, who can be easily ‘sold’ to wealthy men in the UK. That’s so horrifying I can’t even comprehend it. It is literally beyond my ability to understand, much like the Higgs Boson. But I know it happens every day, even now. Probably much more so now, since people are easier to move in this century than the last.

So Millie manages to talk her way out of the bad situation, which is part of her gift.  Marta lets her go, and one of her goons drives Millie home. She asks him his name, and he shoves her against a wall and threatens to rape and hurt her.  This scene made me so angry; I took it almost personally.  It takes confidence to act like Millie does–that’s part of her protection from anyone who wants to hurt her. There’s a reason people tell women to project confidence, to keep from being mugged or attacked. If you walk through the world with confidence, in some ways you’re saying to potential predators that you have enough resources in this world that someone cannot hurt you without expecting retribution.  But this man is so sure that he can do whatever he wants, that he has no problem showing he can physically dominate her.  And she’s not a small woman–she’s 5’9″, she’s curvy (by Hollywood standards anyway!).

I’m writing this entry after a man, angry with women for rejecting him, went on a murder spree in California over the weekend. After posting videos and a manifesto about how much he hated women, and how much they deserved to die because they wouldn’t have sex with him. Women have responded on twitter, posting their own stories of misogyny, fear, assault, and general inhumane treatment. And everyone has stories.

I know I’m digressing wildly now, but just a brief (okay not so brief) word about the fact that very little has changed since the 1950s. Most women are in a position where they can be physically overpowered by men. That means most women have reasons to be afraid. No matter how confident you are, how strong or smart, your ability to walk around in the world could be shattered at any minute. You are able to be happy or sad or whatever you are, only until a man near you decides he wants to hurt you. I project confidence into the world, like Millie, and it keeps me free from most harassment.  But, just like Millie, it could all be taken away.  Which means I walk quickly, I stay aware, I keep my keys between my knuckles when I’m alone at night. I can only slightly comprehend how much worse it might be for women who don’t have the resources I do. I’m a white female, and am a pretty high-risk target because of that.  Women who are marginalized by society have even less power. Because they are women of color, or they are children, or they are intellectually or physically disabled, or in a country illegally, they are more likely to experience abuse (sexual or otherwise) than I am. And they are far less likely to receive help or justice from the police. That’s a universal, throughout the world.

The Bletchley Circle, for all the parts that seem unrealistic or hamfisted, is an important show because it does not pull away from these issues. When I compare it to Downton Abbey, and the way Anna’s rape was …fodder for dramatic tension and how Bates was more concerned with his own revenge than with his wife’s happiness… I know they are different shows, different time periods, and very different pathos. Downton Abbey used rape the way Coronation Street uses tragic and improbable deaths (and also probably rape, but I haven’t seen enough of it to know for sure). To titillate, to engage the empathy of the audience, without much reality thrown in.  The Bletchley Circle did not show rape.  But it showed the systematic, widespread, abuse of women. From the girls being smuggled in by Marta, to Millie’s abduction, to Jean’s being shot, to Lucy’s abusive husband. These are pretty lifelike portrayals of the treatment a lot of women get from men. And the women keep going, keep fighting and pushing for safety, for their rights. I don’t think The Bletchley Circle is a perfect show. But I think it’s important to continue to have shows like it–that focus on women, and that focus on the different types of women, and the problems they face that men may not understand. I’m not saying that if every show were like The Bletchley Circle, there would be no more rape or spousal abuse.  Obviously not a lot of rapists are probably watching it. But, I think if more shows acknowledge that these things happen (and how often they happen), then people who have been lucky enough not to see this firsthand, will at least not dismiss it as a non-issue. And maybe won’t see women speaking up about their own freedoms as an attack on men.

My Experiment with Sport(s)

Subtitles of this post might include ‘Am I a norm now?’.

There are two types of people in America.  People who like and watch and care about pro. sports, and people who don’t.  I really believed this for most of my life, and have hated every group sport (both as a spectator and a participant). I would roll my eyes and sigh as people around me discussed the Phillies or the Vikings or…whatever. I am quite proud that I can’t pick a winning QB out of a crowd–at least 2 of them are named Manning, right?  I spend Super Bowl Sunday watching Animal Planet (Puppy Bowl Sunday, as it should actually be called). The closest I’ve come to enjoying sports is bingewatching Friday Night Lights on Netflix.

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But this year, that all changed. As I said in my post on UK sport last year, I planned to watch the entire season of the Barclay’s Premier League (soccer). I picked my team, pointed out some very helpful condiment-based analogies to illustrate the offside rule, and I was set to go.  What happened next, I did not expect.

In last year’s post, I explained that I was going to support West Ham.  I used Harry Potter to make this decision–a strategy that usually works for me in life. I also explained that it is absolutely unforgivable to support one team, and then support another when the first team starts to do badly.  Punishable by death for many football fans. But…there are a few things I didn’t take into account.  The first problem with my support of West Ham–they were never on TV.  NBC Sports broadcasts ~2-4 matches per weekend, and the rest are available on their app.  West Ham, throughout the season, were only featured on TV if they were playing one of the top 4-5 teams.  The first weekend of the season, they were not on TV.  Instead, I watched Arsenal (my bf’s team) lose to Aston Villa. The second week, they were still not on TV, so I watched Arsenal again.  And so on, and so forth.  After about 3 weeks, I abandoned all pretense and admitted that I support Arsenal. Luckily, I am not in the UK and cannot be extradited to face capital punishment for my shift of loyalty.  Hopefully the statute of limitations is pretty short.

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So, I watched every Arsenal match in the season.  Every. Match.  I even watched some of their non-BPL matches, in the Champions League and FA Cup. Here’s what I learned:

1-Football players can be very attractive:

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Though loved by many, Ronaldo is not my type (he’s too shiny). But there are enough of them to please everyone. David Beckham is not an anomaly. Bonus: They take their shirts off at the end of matches.

Unfortunately,

2-Football players can also be really unattractive:

250026119Sorry Jon, if you happen to ever see this.  Remember you get paid a lot of money to play a sport, if you ever feel too bad about how you look. Also, I could have used a far uglier picture of you, but I felt guilty and scaled back.

3-Wayne Rooney always looks like he’s about to say ‘you talkin to me?’ with false bravado, and get abnormally close to someone in a bar

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4-Arsene Wenger (manager for Arsenal) cannot operate the zipper on his ludicrously long coat:Arsene-Wenger-Jacket-Football-Realm

 

This has been such a constant problem that the cameramen will now pan to AW whenever he’s doing up his coat, to catch brilliant bits of film like this:

5-Jose Mourinho is awful. If you see this man:

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Punch him in the nose for me. Trust me, he deserves it. You should be able to tell, just from this picture, that he deserves it.

6-Being a BPL manager is probably the worst job in the world.  I lost count of how many managers were replaced during the season, but I would say there were at least 10 managers sacked just in the 20 teams in the BPL. Stupid.  This seems like such a bad strategy.  But the fans are very fickle and want a new manager if the team loses 1 or 2 games in a row.  People were howling for Arsene Wenger’s resignation after the 1st match (and loss) of the season.  After that match? Arsenal was top of the league for almost 5 months, finished in the top 4 and won the FA cup. So…people are stupid.

7-A large percentage of football players are probably assholes:

There’s a lot of proof of this, and who would really not expect that?  Who’s more of an asshole than young men who can get everything they want?  They are under a lot of pressure, but they also have fame, money, adoration, and male and female fans ready and willing, wherever they go.  That’s the perfect equation to produce assholes.  In my opinion, the worst of them is Luis Suarez.  He bit a competitor during a match.

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WHAT?! Who does that? Who, in any way or capacity not related to kidnapping or attempted assault resorts to biting someone?  wtf.

8-A massive percentage of football fans are terrible human beings:

A visible and audible percentage are racist, and more racist, pathetic hooligans, and just every combination of awful humanity you can picture. Recently, a racist fan threw a banana at one of the black players.  Like…how do you even associate that in your mind? If someone threw a banana at me, or anyone around me, I wouldn’t even understand that it was an insult because who the fuck in this century associates people of color with monkeys? I mean, any more than the general theory of natural selection and evolution associates all people with monkeys?

After a player got injured in Arsenal vs. Tottenham, the Spurs fans threw coins (coins in the UK, btw, are much heavier than ours in the US. They also threw a water bottle, and some sort of bread roll!) at him while he was being carried away on a stretcher. Last year (!!!), a horse was punched when Newcastle fans rioted.  what the fuck.  Fuck you, football fans. I currently live in a city that boos Santa Claus, Robots, and a man who was the recipient of the world’s first hand transplant.  Sports people in Philly are some of the worst sports people in the world. Or so I thought, before I watched the BPL. BPL fans boo, they throw smoke bombs, they rush the fields, they make up horrific chants–most of which I can’t really hear from this side of the pond, so that’s lucky. If I could hear them, I’d be even more horrified.

One more (far more positive) thing I learned from watching football.  This man,

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Santi Cazorla, is the most adorable thing I have ever seen, and I really want to snuggle him in a totally not-weird way. Like, the way you might want to snuggle Kermit the Frog. Also, I always root for the short athletes, out of commiseration, and he is a great football player who is only 5’6″.  Here he is next to Per Mertesacker, who is a ludicrous 6’8″

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So…the real thing I learned is that I can actually get into sport(s).  I have never had the least interest in basketball, baseball, (American) football, or any of the sports we watch over here. But I do enjoy watching soccer.  While I’m in the US, soccer is still something a bit on the fringes–it implies a slightly more elite and worldly fan, when compared to 250 lb 45 year old men tailgating before the next Eagles game.  But that’s only true here in America.  Everywhere else in the world, soccer is a main sport, and there is nothing elite or worldly about it.  So I’m not sure my new found interest would (will, I should say) continue when surrounded by the mass of truly heinous behaviors displayed by players and by the fans.  I suspect my new passion for football will be nurtured by quiet watching at home, and will shrink to nothingness when in a large group of totally insane fans. This turned out to be a great year to watch football for the first time.  The championship was up in the air until the very end, I got to watch David Moyes age 10 years in 6 months, Arsenal won the FA cup, and the World Cup is just next month. So, in short, I plan to keep watching.  But if I ever act like a heinous douche-bag about it, someone needs to pull the plug on me or tell me to snap out of it.

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Ripper Street – Season 2

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The second season/series of Ripper Street began on BBC America in February, and finished last month. I have my ups and downs with this show, and can’t ever decide how I feel about it. But I never really love it, and the second season was more of the same. It’s the sort of show you watch, but it doesn’t really hold your interest, and when you’re done you can’t really remember what it was about.

The second season had Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) again leading a Whitechapel detective squad with his right-hand man, Sergeant Drake, and his American scientist, Homer Jackson. But it’s the private lives of all three that bring about most of the problems across the season arc. Reid begins to see a new woman, June Cobden, after his marriage had fallen apart.

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I like her more than I like him, to be honest, and I’m comforted to see she’s based on a real person. She’s a feminist, a leader, a politician, and very interested in reforms that can help poor families. As a bleeding-heart liberal woman, I am 100% happy about her. But I still don’t really like Reid. He hides behind the guise of a good, moral man. Perhaps he is as moral as a man can be in that position in that age. But you cannot be a good, moral man, who employs a personal ‘enforcer’. I was most pleased with this season because the show finally addresses this fact. Drake has a certain moral superiority over Reid, because though he is doing the ‘enforcing’, Reid is the one pulling the puppet strings. I get really irritated with shows (like Copper, and somewhat Ripper Street) that imply that you can be a good guy, and still shoot/beat/intimidate people in order to get your own way, and that that behavior is somehow allowed because you are in search of justice.  Nope. The ends do not justify the means.

In the previous season, Drake wanted to marry Rose, one of Susan’s girls. She rebuffed him, determined to be an actress/singer. He marries a different one of Susan’s girls. This tells me that more than he wanted Rose, he just didn’t want to be alone. Forgivable. But the one he does marry, Bella, turns out to have a lot of baggage. She used to be part of some sort of violent, incestuous, proto-cult. She drags Susan into the matter and things go from bad to worse there. Drake loses his wife, and probably most of his mind. He leaves the station and deals with his grief by putting his body through physical pain—he works menial jobs (gravedigging, etc.) during the day, and at night he is a ‘boxer’. I hesitate to even call it boxing, because he has his hands tied behind his back and people make bets about how many punches he can take before he passes out. I would liken his behavior to a 19th-century form of self-harm. Easier to deal with physical pain than the emotional.

But this foray away from the precinct puts Reid in a very awkward spot. He has always been able to keep his hands clean of the riff raff. He would nod at Drake, and Drake would punch witnesses until they talked. Without Drake around, Reid is forced to come up with alternative tactics, or forced to do the punching himself. That made me feel better, but by the end of the season this dynamic reverts to where it was, without much change on either side.

The other big character shift was the relationship between Jackson and Susan. He loses her trust and her love, and things go from bad to worse between them. Men are so stupid sometimes, and Jackson is definitely one of them. Susan is forced to go through a lot of horrible things to keep afloat after Jackson’s stupid decisions.

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The other constant on Ripper Street is the highly unlikely plot points, usually relating to new technology emerging at that point. The first season had the invention of video—in order to make snuff porn. This season, in addition to featuring proto-cults, there were opiates, people smuggling diamonds in their anuses, electricity scheisters that did something very disturbing to a farm animal in order to prove the safety of their form of current (sadly, this is based on a very real and very horrifying truth), telegraph messenger boys as a front for gay pedophiles, police corruption, a garroted man, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), and several scenes with pig carcasses that I had to watch between my fingers because yuck.

The problem I really have with Ripper Street is the lack of depth. They put a lot of effort into salacious plots and nefarious villains, but the character development is sometimes lacking. Reid has almost no internal emotions portrayed, and people are too often separated into the wholly good or wholly bad. There are exceptions. The women are believable, and have the most depth. Drake is probably the only man that I think has a level of substance that makes him relatable. Despite Reid’s use of him as a bulldog and nothing more, Drake has an understanding of the world and of himself, and also a fear of those same two things, that make him the most interesting man on the show.

Ripper Street

BBC cancelled Ripper Street after season two. But the fans of this show pulled together and sent emails, signed petitions, etc. to get it renewed. And it worked! Sort of. Amazon is going to make the third season. It will air on BBC and BBC America, after being streamed online. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the show, that makes me feel good. I wish things like email campaigns or kickstarters had existed when I was younger. That being said, I’m not sure I’m going to watch season 3. Despite my love of all things Victorian, I just can’t get into this show. This is a show that often eschews emotional substance in favor of flashy scandalousness. I would prefer a show that did the opposite.

 

Moving to the UK – part two

So, we’ve covered how to get a visa, finding somewhere for you (and your pets) to live, and some money basics.  What’s next once you get past the border?

Student visas being abused 1. First of all, you have places to go.  How should you get there?

  • Driving license procedures and policies here and here. I’m hoping you realize that they drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car.
  • London congestion zone info here. Don’t have a car in London unless you need to. If you need further proof, look at the gas (petrol) prices
  • Boris’ bikes (Barclays Cycle Hire, officially) info here.

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  • Public transport info. London has the tube, buses, the overground, and several rail stations. You can look at maps and schedules, plan journeys, and learn about policies at the TFL site. There will usually be special discounted rates for students and for senior citizens. Here is the policy for the London Oyster cards. Other major cities (Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds/West Yorkshire, Liverpool/Merseyside, Glasgow) have similar systems.
  • Travel between cities is fairly easy but not particularly cheap. You can take buses (coaches) or trains–different London train stations go to different locations, do your research online. Buy tickets at least one day in advance and you can usually get them for cheaper.

2. Furnishing your home

  •  I won’t be doing it, but if you want to ship your things across the pond, here is some info on that process. Plan on it taking time and money.
  • In large cities, there are more furnished flats and homes in the UK than you will find in the US. Make sure you consider those homes in your search, but also weigh the extra costs and find what will work for your budget and your length of stay in the UK.
  • If you want to buy furniture when you get there, that is obviously possible, but plan on it taking more trips and more money than you might spend in the US. The thing about shopping in the UK, is that they don’t have large big box stores there (not many, anyway), which means you will not be able to stop at your local Target/Walmart and get an outfit, a futon, your groceries, and an iPad.  You’ll probably have to go to 4 separate small stores.  That being said, here’s a list of ‘equivalent’ UK stores to popular US stores. Also, there are some Tescos called Tesco Extra, and that is the closest you’ll find to a Walmart/Target.

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  • When I moved before, my first stop was the Ikea near Wembley.  Ikea is wonderful, but be warned that none of the London-adjacent Ikeas are easy to get to from public transport.  You may want to rent or borrow a car if you plan to get palette furniture. If Ikea is not for you, here is a list of the 50 best UK furniture stores.

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  • Electronics–there are two items you may need. A power converter and a plug adapter. The power converter actually changes the current going into your device. The plug adapter just makes your US device fit into the UK power plugs. Your US computer should work without a power converter; it only needs a plug adapter. Make sure you check the specifics for your product. Don’t take my word as gospel, because everything is different. For nearly everything I had, I only used the power converter to charge my Nintendo DS.  Everything else could just be used with a plug adapter. One caveat–I highly recommend buying heat devices (hair dryers, curlers, straighteners, etc.) once you get there. These seem the most likely to cause an accident when using adapters and converters, so it is far safer just to buy them once you arrive. Here are some other expat experiences with electronics, including some info on price differences. Expect to pay more for all electronics in the UK.
  • Small necessities – Boots is the place to go for cosmetics and toiletries. Asda can be a good place to get small items (cleaning supplies, trash cans, etc.). For cell phones (called mobiles), your best bet is probably Carphone Warehouse, just because they have so many locations.

3. Where to eat

  • Groceries. The biggest stores are generally Sainsbury’s and Tesco. There are other small stores like M&S Foods, where you pay a little more. Locations vary. Also note, just because it says ’24-hour Sainsbury’s’, don’t expect it to be open 24 hours a day, every day. My local 24-hour Sainsbury’s closed at 5 on Sundays. If you want something really fancy, try the Waitrose or food halls at Harrods or Selfridges. They’ll charge you 5 pounds for a box of Lucky Charms, which is highway robbery. But look how pretty they are:

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  • Eating out. There are a myriad of choices, depending on where you live obviously. Nearly every neighborhood or village will have a pub or gastropub, a coffee shop, and a fast food or chain option. The fast food chains that you will recognize are Subway, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Starbucks, Chipotle (These were not available when I lived in London before, so I went through a very long period without any Mexican food. Tragic.), Five Guy’s, and (most recently arrived) Shake Shack. Mmm…Shake Shack.  Other mostly-universal UK fast food options are Pret a Manger (delicious, eco-friendly, but expensive), EAT, Costa Coffee, & Chicken Cottage. Sit down restaurants include TGI Friday’s (but I beg you not to go there), Pizza Express, Wagamama, and approximately 5000 different curry/Indian options. But…don’t go to a chain all the time! You’re in a new country, try something new. If you’re in London, I recommend perusing the Time Out website for reviews and ratings. I had great success picking from their website, including one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in my life.

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  • Finding US products. If you just need some Cheetos, Reese’s, or Pop Tarts, and you can’t live without them, there are websites and stores that can get you your fix.

4-Miscellaneous

  • I don’t have kids, so this is miscellaneous for me, but it is probably fairly important to those who have kids.  Here’s a good source of info on moving to the UK with kids.

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  • Shopping for clothing and accessories. Just as with the US, cities contain large chain stores and small avant-garde boutiques. Smaller cities and villages will have fewer options and generally run more conservative. If you’re in London, Oxford Street should be your first stop. If you want something more eclectic, East London or Camden markets are a good place to try. If you have little money and want the best deal, regardless of store cleanliness or line lengths, head to Primark. Some general uk shopping info is available here.
  • NHS is the free health service for anyone in the UK longer than 6 months. But really, anyone in the country can use it. Important vocab note: do not refer to the ER at your local hospital, they call it A+E (accident and emergency department). Students generally use a university clinic.  You have access to doctor’s visits at no cost, and you will only pay something like £7 for any prescriptions.
  • Utilities–I haven’t done a lot of research, since I won’t need to pay them at the dorms. But here is some info from other expats.
  • Some tips and thoughts from fellow expats here, here, and here. Plus a very helpful Buzzfeed listicle here.

Okay, once again, caveat lector here.  I am just putting in this info that I’ve found, not implying that any of it is 100% correct or should be used as a reference. Do research on your specific situation before you take anything for granted. Also, let me know what I’m missing or what I’ve got wrong.

Here’s a link to my first post on moving to the UK, in case you missed it.

 

Moving to the UK – part one

I’ve been slacking lately, I’ll admit it. I haven’t made a blog post in over 2 weeks. All I can say is that I have good reason.

KCL

 

I recently accepted a place in grad school—a master’s program in Nineteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. I’ll be moving to London in September. !!!

I’ve already lived in London of course, but 6 months just seems so much shorter than 1 full year. And it requires a considerable amount of extra planning and paperwork—paperwork that my university did for me last time. So I’ve been doing research, and thought I’d share some tips and facts I’ve discovered. If you are considering/planning a move to the UK, I hope this will be helpful.

1. Most importantly, you need a visa.

uk-border-agency_1738357cRules are very strict for entering the UK with a plan to work, study, or stay for more than 6 months. There are different kinds of visas available for different kinds of situations. I’ll be getting a student visa. This requires the university to send in some paperwork to the UK government, stating that I have been accepted, that I will be doing full-time study, and that my study is a ‘progression’ from previous study I’ve undertaken. This last point is to prevent people from staying in the UK and studying for several bachelor’s degrees, just as an excuse to stay in the country. Other visas are for specific types of professions (artists, actors, musicians can usually get into the country if they can prove they have money to support themselves, and/or are of sufficient cultural standing), workers that the UK is in need of (this used to be tech workers, but I’m not sure there are currently any categories that this applies to.), investors (with over £200,000 to invest). There are some others for specific nationalities or other categories. None of these are easy to get, as the system is designed to only accept people who will undoubtedly be able to support themselves, i.e., people who will not go on the dole once they get in. Just a note — currently these rules apply to everywhere in the UK, to my knowledge, but often Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland have different policies, so be sure to do some research. I especially have no idea what rules will apply if Scotland becomes independent during the upcoming referendum.

2. Housing.  Once you’re legally allowed to immigrate, where are you going to live?! If you’re a millionaire, you can head to Foxton’s or Sotheby’s to find your ideal Regency-era townhouse or converted stables with granite everything.FMOS 142

 

If you’re not a millionaire (or only have a paltry £1-2 million), you can look at rentals or for-sale homes on Rightmove, Home.co.uk, or Primelocation. Here is a list of a few others. If you’re a plebeian like me, I suggest Gumtree or Craigslist (UK).  They offer rooms, houses, or flats for rent or sale. Most universities offer accommodation, particularly for international students. They also usually have partnerships or databases with information on local housing/rental companies that can help students find a place to live. Obviously everything in and around London is approximately 3,000 times more expensive than everywhere else in the UK. Some important things that may not be common knowledge to non-Brits:

  • Flat = apartment
  • Bedshare = a rented bedroom. Generally has a shared bathroom in the hallway.
  • Rent is often calculated and advertised at a weekly, rather than monthly rate. This is sort of crummy, because in months with 5 weeks, you pay extra than you would at a monthly rate.
  • If the flat has a washer/dryer, it is probably an all-in-one, and it is probably in the kitchen.
  • Do not expect an American-sized refrigerator. Expect a small one, like university kids have in their dorms.
  • WC = water closet = loo = bathroom

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  • If you watch TV (on a TV or computer), you must pay a TV license, of about £150. More info on TV licenses here.

3. Pets! Who leaves without their pets? Me, technically. My cat will be staying behind with my boyfriend, because I’m (hopefully) going to live in the dorms. But, for anyone who is getting a house or flat, here’s what you need to know about bringing your furry friends:

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  • It is much easier now to bring your pets (from approved countries), but you still need a pet passport and need to meet the criteria. See information on the process here.
  • Here is a list of inoculations and ID chip details you will need to get done.
  • Some breeds or types of pets are not accepted in the country, or in specific areas.
  • For pets that are not dogs or cats, more info here.
  • Make sure you do everything to the letter. Or they will come and take your pet away from you.
  • If you want to adopt a pet once you’re in the UK, here are a lists of shelters and rescues. Don’t buy a pet; rescue one! Or two!

4. Money, banking, credit cards, and taxes. I’m hoping you realize this already, but the UK currency is GBP (£). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.69 to £1 or 1.22 Euro to £1. Also note that Scotland actually has its own bank notes. They are accepted throughout the UK, and £ are accepted in Scotland. But you might get Scottish change back for a purchase made there, so be aware.

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  • UK banks and credit cards. There are several major banks in the UK, with the most ATM (cash  machines, as they call them) and branch locations throughout. These are HSBC, Lloyds, Halifax, Barclays, & The Royal Bank of Scotland. These will probably be the easiest to deal with, particularly if you plan on traveling throughout the UK, or have an account in one of their US branches. This site compares different credit card deals–be sure to read the fine print! According to this site, there are some problems setting up a bank account or credit card in the UK–more so than in the US anyway.  Still, all you can do is go in and ask questions, and see what they can do.
  • US banks and credit cards. If you are coming for a short time, you can probably live without any UK accounts. I did, when I lived in London for only 6 months. There are two potential fees involved with these. ATM fees – I was charged ATM fees and currency exchange fees by my bank, so this was expensive and I tried not to do it often. The other big fees are from credit cards. Be sure to check your credit card policies to determine whether it will charge extra fees when you use it abroad. Mine didn’t, so I used it for everything, and then paid the bill online, taking the money from my US account. That was the easiest way to live without a UK account. One downside to this: UK credit cards generally have an embedded microchip (called chip and pin), and American cards don’t, so it may take longer for transactions to go through, and may not work at all in certain places. You may also have to explain to cashiers that it is not a chip and pin card.  Also, very important: notify your US credit and debit cards that you are traveling or moving abroad. International purchases are generally declined unless you have notified your card beforehand.

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  • Taxes. Here is some info specifically for Americans working in the UK. If you don’t have income in the UK, you don’t need to ‘pay’ tax.  If you’re there traveling, you can even get VAT (sales) tax refunds. But if you do work in the UK, expect to have more taken out of your checks as the year progresses, because they have a system of pay-as-you-earn. Also, their tax year begins and ends in early April; they don’t use a calendar year.  All that being said, your employer should help you with this stuff, and I would recommend having a professional manage any tax issues, because …honestly it’s hard enough to sort through US tax info, let alone a totally different system. Also, FYI: being paid monthly is the norm. I hope you can stick to a budget!

Okay. Thus endeth part I of this large tome.  Next post will concern transport, shopping, shipping, and miscellaneous. If any of these details are wrong or incomplete, let me know! I want the right info, both for myself and for anyone who reads this.