A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about living abroad

Whatcha Reading?

Navigating the minefield that is picking a newspaper to read.

sunny 20 °C

Sunday morning. There’s nothing quite like a decent Sunday morning with nothing at all on the daily calendar, is there? A day to wake up, wander around the house, avoid showering, have a leisurely breakfast and read the Sunday newspaper. Then, maybe about 1 o’clock, after spending the day flipping through every section of the massive Sunday press, then maybe its time to get outside and do something.

Back in Toronto, when I would wander around the house, eating my breakfast and reading the newspaper, it would be the Toronto Star. A good, decent solid liberal newspaper (by Canadian standards).

The question I faced when I first arrived in London is what newspaper I should read. There are a lot of choices, and what you choose to read says a lot about who you are, or at least who you think you are.

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During the week, of course, I don’t have time to sit around a leisurely read the paper. I, like most of the rest of London, read the same thing on weekdays.

The Metro.


The London Metro is a free newspaper distributed every weekday morning. It has just about enough news to digest in about 20 minutes, and if you are feeling really ambitious or want something to do at lunch or on the evening train home, there is a Suduko.

Everyone who commutes in London seems to read the Metro newspaper. Comedian Michael McIntyre commented on this in his Live at the Apollo appearance.

And everyone's reading, you have to read, you can't be on the tube without reading, reading is very important. You get on on the morning and every single person is reading the Metro. Everyone, everyone. Why doesn't one person just read it to the carriage?

if you want to see him do it (much funnier with his delivery), check out this clip on Youtube, starting at about 2:30. Stick around for the bit at about five minutes in, when he talks about the guy trying to get on the crowded tube train. Classic stuff.

We used to have a free Metro newspaper in Toronto, one of many cities with a free morning newspaper called the Metro. The London Metro is not, however, one of that brand. The Metro papers in Toronto, New York, Philly, Paris, Sydney, Rome et al are run by a Swedish company based in Luxembourg.

The London Metro, along with the other Metro editions in the UK are run by a separate company, though they stole the name from the Swedes, so the papers are named the same.

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So that covers me on the weekdays and my commutes. On weekends, though, that’s where you are faced with the decision. Saturday and Sunday editions of the many newspapers available in London are numerous, and the local news agents counters are groaning under the weight of all the editions.

As I said, what paper you read says a lot about who you are.

If you like sports, gossip and boobies, hate immigrants and have little patience for big words or long articles, then the tabloids are for you. The tabloids, also known as red-tops due to the fact many have a red banner at the top of the page, include The Star, The Sport, The Mirror and most famously the The Sun, and her Sunday companion “The News of the World.”

The Sun is one of the most read newspapers in the world, with a daily distribution of almost 3 million copies. The Sun is famous for coverage of celebrities and the Royals, Sports coverage and the Page 3 girl. The Page 3 girl is usually a comely lass who is pictured after misplacing her top and bra.

It is often said of The Sun that it is read back-to-front, as the Sports pages are at the back of the paper, and many of the readers of The Sun are football fans drawn to their extensive football coverage. Of course, in reality The Sun is read in this order - Page 3, and then back to front.

While Page 3 is enticing, for real thrills you’d have to check out the Daily Sport. The Daily Sport ditches the concept of news entirely, simply publishing pictures of naked and near naked women instead and writing a few words of copy around the picture. I must admit that I was tempted to become a Daily Sport reader, but I do occasionally like to read some real news, so decided to go for something a little more high-brow.

The Daily Express or the Daily Mail are a little more high-brow than the tabloids, though at times not much more. The Express is fond of conspiracy stories regarding the death of Princess Diana, and the Daily Mail ran a headline in 1993 entitled “Abortion hope after 'gay genes' findings,” suggesting that if there was a “gay gene” pre-natal test, then parents could choose to terminate the pregnancy. A strange suggestion for a newspaper who is editorially anti-abortion.

The Daily Mail published a story on the seventh of January 1967 called “The Holes In Our Roads” about potholes. The story looked at the crumbling infrastructure of British roads, specifically quoting the example of Blackburn, Lancashire, where it said there were 4,000 potholes. In the same issue was a story about the death of John Lennon’s friend Tara Browne.

Lennon, when writing about the death of his friend, picked up on the story of the potholes to pen the lines, “four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire, and though the holes were rather small they had to count them all. Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall,” for the song Day in the Life.

Despite the historical link with my favourite Beatles song, The Mail and the similar Express, often called “middle-market” papers, tend to be conservative and euro-sceptic. As you can tell from my blog, I am pretty Euro-positive, so I decided to look for something a little more in line with my values.

That left me with the Broadsheets. These are the classy papers, the ones that fancy people read. Oh, and me, as well, even though I am not too fancy.

Each paper has a definite political slant. The Telegraph, sometimes called The Tory-graph, is conservative, while the other broadsheets tend to be more liberal. Well, the Financial Times isn’t really liberal, per se, but rather is so focused on business and the stock market to give too much care for liberal or conservative thoughts on social policy. Anyway, I am more liberal than conservative, so I decided to pick one of the other broadsheets.

The Independent is a centre-left paper, an out-growth from The Dublin Independent, but no one really reads it, so I was able to dismiss it pretty easily.

The Guardian and its Sunday edition called The Observer are left of centre and socially liberal.

The Guardian was originally published in Manchester, with the most early editions being sent from Manchester to London. I didn’t know this, but apparently the later runs of newspapers have less errors, because they are being caught and corrected as the run continues. To get the paper into the shops for the morning commuters, London papers sent their early editions to the North of England, whereas early editions of the Guardian came down to London.

Because of Londoners getting the early editions of the Guardian, many folks in London would find spelling errors in the Guardian, leading to it being dubbed the Grauniad, after an urban-myth of the newspaper’s name being misspelt on the banner.

I don’t mind the Guardian, and their headquarters aren’t in Manchester anymore, but rather down in King’s Cross, London, just a block from my flat.

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However, I finally settled on reading the Times on Saturday and Sunday, mostly because my current flat mate reads The Times on Saturdays and Sundays, and therefore we can share the cost of buying the papers.

So, on Sunday mornings I get up, throw on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a pair of sandals and walk half a block up Caledonian Road to the News Agent. There, in exchange for two of my hard earned pounds, I get a thick newspaper that’ll keep me busy for the next four hours, plus a few hours here and there during the week thanks to the magazines.

I return home, make myself some toast and peanut butter and settle in to read the Sunday Times.

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So, what does this choice of paper say about me? Well, officially, the paper is centre-right, so I guess that means I am a little bit conservative. I suppose that isn’t surprising. After all, I do tend to meander over the spectrum of voting. Mostly though, it says I like the concept of not always having to buy the paper.

Perhaps, though, it is best to leave it to others to determine what it says about me. For that, I turn to 1980s sitcom Yes, Prime Minister and their episode entitled “A Conflict of Interest.”

Prime Minister Jim Hacker: I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. The Times is read by people who actually do run the country. The Daily Mirror is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who own the country. The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country. The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.


Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about people who read the Sun.


Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country as long as she's got big tits.

Posted by GregW 04:03 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

I’ve Become Boring... and I Love It

I used to think settling is what houses do... or what women do when they decide to date me.

sunny 24 °C

The last day of July was my last day up in Birmingham, and after returning from Toronto, I have been working on developing some internal systems training for my company, which has me working at home most days, but with the occasional trip down to my company’s HQ in Egham.

Getting to Egham requires travelling for about an hour and a half, transferring from the London Underground to Southern Trains at Victoria Station, and then transferring to South West Trains at Clapham Junction, the self-proclaimed UK’s busiest train station.

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I snapped the photo yesterday when I headed down to Egham because I thought about writing a blog entry that incorporated Clapham Junction. Either I was going to go all mythbusters on the claim about being Britain’s busiest station or write an entry about commuting.

I tried writing an entry about Clapham Junction, but after reading the though the first paragraph under “Today” on the Wikipedia entry for Clapham Junction, I realized that I really had nothing to add. So I decided to try and tackle an entry on commuting. I figured it seeing as “The Esoteric Globe” has (nominally at least) become a blog about me living abroad, I guess it would make some sort of sense if I gave you an idea of what my commute is like. After all, commuting is part of living abroad.

After writing the introduction for the blog entry though, I re-read it and realized it was as boring as tweets regarding chicken breast deals at Co-Op or ferries in my line of sight. Not that things have exactly been overwhelming interesting in my other blog entries this month - an entry on how flying internationally in economy is annoying (not exactly a novel observation given the 1.5 million hits that come up on Google on the subject), an entry comparing weather forecasts and another entry on flying, though this one having nothing to do me actually flying...

Sigh.

In all honesty, I almost didn’t post my last entry on The first scheduled international flight. I read the article on it and thought it was a vaguely interesting fact. The kind of thing that one should sock away in their brain in the event they are ever at a pub quiz and one of the questions is asked “When was the first scheduled international flight?” It is not, though, the kind of thing that is deserving of its own blog entry, surely.

The fact is that earlier this week I looked at the blog and realized I hadn’t posted anything in a couple weeks and felt I needed to post something. So I posted something tediously dull, and I almost did it again today.

Fact of the matter is that life here in London has become somewhat boring. Not much travel other than the morning commute, and so little to write about. My life has become very domestic of late...

...and I love it.

I realized about a week ago that I was really starting to feel settled here in London. My life is filled up with things that normal people with normal lives do -

Work during the week and relax on the weekends; poker on Friday nights; the pub on Sunday; Wednesday night pizza night; the occasionally film or concert; putting together flat-pack furniture; going to the bank; going to the dentist; watching Top Gear.

The above mentioned concert - U2 at Wembley

The above mentioned concert - U2 at Wembley

It is like I’ve become a real person now, after living much of the last year in a kind of disconnected from real life state.

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Before I was experiencing London, but not part of it. It felt like I was a ghost, floating through the town. Now I am here, I am employed, I have a place to live, I have friends, I have plans in my social diary (I am even going to the Opera next weekend). In the past few months it feels like the immaterial and disembodied life in London is becoming corporeal and real.

Back a year and 3 months ago, when I first arrived here, I wrote about floating on the surface of London. I said that, “If the first day I felt like I was floating on top of London, not at all immersed into it, the second day I felt that at the very least I had a toe in the water, slowly sinking into my life.”

I’m no longer floating. I am on the ground - solid and real. The streets are crowded, the tube trains too hot, there are workmen banging on metal like a steel drum band outside my window. It’s dirty and hot and real.

...and I love it.

Posted by GregW 09:16 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

A Tale of Two Cities' Weather Forecasts

It was the sunniest of times, it was the rainest of times. It was the era of smog, it was the era of clear skies. It was the epoch of high wind warnings, it was the epoch of calm breezes...

sunny 25 °C

I write this sitting in my flat in London, overhead fan whirling at top speed trying to keep me cool on a hot and overcast day, and I realize I have no idea what the Humidex is today.

I recently returned for a very short 5 day stint to Toronto. It was a whirlwind tour of family, friends and responsibilities like renewing my passport and cleaning out my storage locker.

It had been 8 months since my last visit to Canada and in that time I have certainly done my share of settling into England. This has allowed me to view Canada with a touch of the eye of a foreigner. A few things I noted are that chicken wings are better in Canada, beer is REALLY expensive in Toronto, the trains are slow and expensive and the buildings are really tall and shiny.

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Mostly though, I noted the difference in the weather forecasts.

The weather forecast in London will be something like this: “Today will be a mixture of rainy and sunny periods with a high near 24. This evening will clear, temperatures a mild 15. Tomorrow, starting sunny, getting overcast in the evening with a high of 22.”

That’s it. The weather map in the back shows cloud cover, rain and the occasionally wind direction and speed. All very simple to answer the three primary questions “Do I need a jacket?”, “Should I take my sunglasses?” and “Should I take my umbrella?”

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In Canada by contrast, you practically need a science degree to understand the weather forecast. Not only will they tell you basic information like “rainy,” “sunny,” or “snowy,” but you’ll get probabilities of precipitation, amount of precipitation (snow in centimetres, rain in millimetres), percent of cloudy cover, cloud ceiling height, humidity, humidex (impact of humidity on perceived temperature), wind direction and speed, wind chill (how the speed of the wind impacts the temperature), barometric pressure and whether it is rising or falling. Canadian weather men tell you about where the high and low pressure areas are, and how the jet stream is impacting the weather systems from west to east of the country.

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That is, you will admit, a lot of extra information just to answer those three primary questions “Do I need a jacket?”, “Should I take my sunglasses?” and “Should I take my umbrella?” Of course, that’s because in Canada you often have to ask not just if you need a jacket, but also mittens, a toque, snow shovel, winter boots, snow pants, face-warmer, salt, emergency food rations or bear repellent.

The two countries do share something in common when it comes to the weather forecast, though. More often than not, the forecast is wrong.

The safest thing… Always carry an umbrella, sunglasses and a jacket. To paraphrase Dickens, it is a far, far better thing that I do, being prepared for any weather eventuality, than I have ever done before (when believing the forecast); it is a far, far better peace of mind that I have in carrying both an umbrella and sunscreen than I have ever known previously when having to choose between them.

Posted by GregW 06:49 Archived in Canada Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

I am not a Traveller, I am a Migrant

Coming to the realisation that I am really the slowest of the slow travellers... so slow, it's not really travel at all. It's actually moving.

overcast 12 °C

I came to a realisation recently that I am not a traveller.

By that I mean that I am not the kind of person that can pack all their stuff in a backpack and head out into the great unknown. I know folks like that, who spend months – even years – on the road without a home base. I admire it, but I’ve recently realized that that type of travel isn’t really for me.

I think I’ve subconsciously known this for a while, but my conscious self has been loath to accept it. In fact, back in 2003 I wrote the following in an email (later reproduced as a blog entry on my final days in South America):

Truthfully, I have been crashing since my last few days in Buenos Aires, and I have little energy left to be the great explorer anymore. One of the most important lessons I learnt on this trip, I am not meant to be the kind of person that spends 6 months backpacking around the world. I still love travel and seeing new places, but the energy required to be constantly planning your next move and the laissez-faire attitude required for the travel is just not in me… Don't get me wrong, I am glad I took this trip. But I don't think I will be taking another like it again. My next trip - shorter, more focused on a single location or task and planned in advance.

Passport stamps from South America

Passport stamps from South America

While I never really took to planning in advance for any trip I take or going to just one place, I have found that I enjoy my travels a lot more if they are focused on a specific topic or event. I don’t do well just drifting without a plan (at least for more than a couple of days).

Despite writing those words back in 2003, I’ve resisted accepting that I am not a long-term traveller until recently. I chalk that reluctance to a simple reason. Since taking that trip in 2003, I have found myself drawn to keep taking trips, both for business and pleasure. Each of those trips has driven a further desire to head further afield. Each trip has increased a feeling that I had that somehow travel was important to my life. Confusingly, though, I wasn’t really sure why or how. I just knew that somehow all this travel was important and was leading someplace.

Eventually where it led, as you are all probably aware, is to a flat in King’s Cross, London, where I now live as an immigrant to the United Kingdom. Despite pretty much nothing going to the plan I had in my head when I first moved over here more than a year ago, somehow it has all felt really comfortable. Even the setbacks have felt like a movement forward.

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

The reason for this feeling of comfort can be found in something I wrote more than a year ago. Back in early 2008, I was feeling increasingly unsure about my future at the company I was working at. I started to jot down my thoughts on what I wanted to do next. I sometimes do this when I am faced with a big decision, finding that the writing helps me think through the issues I am facing and make a decision I can feel comfortable with. In my musing on my next move back in early 2008, I came up with a number of options, including moving to another division, moving to another company, starting a new career, starting my own business and going back to school. Over the month or so I was musing on my next move, one idea kept coming forward stronger and stronger. About two weeks before I finally made a final decision on what I would do, I wrote the following statement.

“Option: Quit job and move to London.
Analysis: Least sensible option, but for some reason this feels important to do.”

Despite being the least sensible option, I did end up taking it. When people have asked me why I did it, I’ve often dodged the question or responded with a vague reason like “wanted international work experience” or “hoped to miss the recession by moving abroad.” The real reason is that it felt important to me to do it, and there is no rational way to explain it. It was a feeling that I had to follow.

All this recently came into focus when I stumbled across a definition of something called “existential migration.” According to Dr. Greg Madison, the Canadian-born, Brighton, U.K.-based psychotherapist and counselling psychologist who coined the term, existential migration is “conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.” It is different from “economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration” in that it is a chosen move, not driven by economic or political needs. In his research, he found those that many who he has spoken with “adamantly insist that they couldn’t have stayed; they had to go.” Even though politics, war or economic need didn’t make them leave, there was something in them that made them pack up and go.

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

There were many things that struck a chord with me in Madison’s research, but a lot of what had been driving me over the past few years made sense. I realized that a lot of what had been drawing me into my career as a consultant was the opportunity to have a mini-migrant experience. I would move temporarily to a place and get to experience life there. It was a more settled and familiar experience than long-term travel, but still placed me in the foreign and unfamiliar. Consulting was a chance to dip my toe in and try out being an immigrant with the safety net of having a home back in Toronto.

In the past few years though, I would find myself getting “itchy” for a change after four to six months on a consulting project. At the time I thought that it was because I wanted to move on, get some place new. Now though, I am starting to think that the reason I got jumpy was because I wanted to take a further, deeper step into migration and knew that ultimately I wasn’t getting that from a temporary contract experience.

It was on reading Madison’s research that I realized that I wasn’t a traveller. All this time, I hadn’t been travelling. I had been slowly working up to what I am doing now, living in another country.

I am not a traveller. I am a migrant. It has just taken me a while to get around to actually migrating.

Posted by GregW 09:57 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

Canada's National Shame: "Who is that guy?"

On the eve of the latest global summit, I'm forced to admit that nobody knows anything about Canadian politics...

overcast 15 °C

From July 8th through 10th the leaders of the G8 will be meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, hosted by embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The G8 (the Group of Eight) is formed of eight key industrialised nations who meet to discuss issues of international importance and determine key international policies.

With this meeting comes a national shame for Canada, for I know that I will have conversations similar to the one below over the next few days with people here in the United Kingdom.

“Look, there’s a photo of the G8 leaders. Doesn’t Gordon Brown look like an idiot?” they will say.

“The man doesn’t take a great photo,” I will agree.

Pointing at the picture, they will say, “I heard that everyone is ignoring Berlusconi because of the sex scandal in Italy right now. Look at how far Merkel and Sarkozy are standing from him!”

“You’d think Silvio would be a better host, given all the parties he seems to be having for 18 year old models at his residences,” I’ll joke. We’ll all laugh.

“Medevev and Obama are in deep conversation in this photo. Probably talking about nuclear missile reductions,” my UK friends will reply.

Finally, they will point to the two last leaders. “That’s the PM of Japan,” they will say, pointing to the obviously Japanese guy.

Then will come the blow to my national pride. Pointing at the last man in the photo, they will say, “Who is that guy, did the caterer wander into the photo?”

I will reply, too quickly and loudly in a squeaky and hurt voice, “that’s the prime minister of Canada!”

“Oh,” they will say, nodding. “Jean Christian, right?”

My heart will drop with that. “No, Jean Chrétien used to be the Prime Minister. That is Stephen Harper. He’s a Conservative. He is the leader of the minority government.”

“Hmm, I see,” they will say, but they will have already stopped listening; having moved on to checking out the photos of Michelle Obama’s dresses.

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I just have to learn to accept that nobody over here knows who the Prime Minister of Canada is. The G8 is made up of France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, though most folks would probably struggle in naming that last one, or its leader.

Everyone knows Obama, of course. I’d be hard not to, given his almost rock-star like status and constant media coverage. Even if McCain had won though, all the Europeans would still know who is the President of the USA. President of the USA is still the most important office in the world, despite the recent ascent of the BRIC nations.

The Brits can all name the European leaders as well. They are after all, part of the big union with them, and all are key trading partners with the UK. Over here we all know the Russian president too, because he keeps cutting off the gas that keeps our heating going in the winter.

Japan, well, I’m not actually convinced that anyone knows the Prime Minister’s name, but he’s easy to recognise because he isn’t a white guy.

Canada, though, always gets overlooked.

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The G8 leaders in Germany in Taken on June 7, 2007, courtesy the White House. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is walking beside Tony Blair on the left of the photo. That the UK PM was pushed out to walk with the Canadian Prime Minister was no doubt a sign that he was on his way out. Blair was ousted as PM less than three weeks later.

This isn't a slight on Stephen Harper specifically, because I bet if Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was PM, no one in Europe would know who he was either. Well, probably a couple disgruntled international students at Harvard would be thinking to themselves, "I can't believe that jerk-off Ignatieff who gave me D-minus in my Public Policy course is now Prime Minister of Canada. " The rest of the Europeans, though, would have no idea who he was. That's the place of Canada in the European consciousness today.

In fact, when the international group that would eventually morph into the G8 was first formed in 1975, there were only six of the present nations involved. Russia was excluded because, at the time, they were godless communists who kept threatening to nuke the other participants, which isn’t exactly the best way to make friends. Canada wasn’t included simply because no one thought to invite them. Feeling bad about forgetting his little neighbour to the north, the USA President Gerald Ford, who hosted the summit in 1976, invited Canada along. Once the other national leaders saw Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau show up, they shrugged and said, “Well, I guess if you are here now, you might as well join.” Thus the G6 became the G7.

It is only going to get more embarrassing for Canadians like me, I’m afraid. While Canada used to have one of the seven highest GDPs in the world, it has slipped behind Spain, China and Brazil recently. All three of those countries are lobbying to be included in the group, along with India, Mexico, South Africa and Egypt. If the G8 grows, no doubt our lowly Prime Minister will keep getting pushed to the outer fringes of the picture.

Years from now, when the G15 are meeting in Durban, South Africa or Goa, India, someone will no doubt point to a picture of the smiling leaders and say, “and who is that guy at the end beside the Mexican president? Did the caterer wander into the picture?”

Posted by GregW 10:04 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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