Nov 272015

Happ DD

Being 18 and an American Paris in London

Do you remember being 18?  So much promise!  Maybe you started college, or your first *real* job.  Maybe you got a car, or a person to steadily date.  Whatever your personal path, 18 is typically a time of huge growth and maturation.

I think I have mentioned before that we have a tendency to live our lives on Difficulty Level David.  In most video games, you can choose your difficulty level.  These are things like “Novice, Medium, Hard, and Impossible”.  David, always loving a challenge, tends to gravitate toward the top level settings on all his games.  It wasn’t until a few years in that we noticed that our *lives* sort of followed that trend, too.

—“Pfah.  College is too easy, I know, how about facing a life-altering medical condition (juvenile diabetes) as soon as I arrive?”

—“What the heck is this, David’s career is way too easy.  What say you,  let’s jump into the least-well-paying, toughest-to-get-into corner of the tech sphere!?”

— Hey, living in suburban California is boring and we know way too much about the ways of getting things done.  How about we all move to a country where we don’t speak the language (or that other required language, either) and start fresh?”

Not wanting DD to miss out on the trend, we lined up something super special for her on our move to London: No Visa, and no school to sponsor one!  WOot!  That is just how we roll!  So, this was what DD had to deal with at 18….

The Key Points:

  • DD is 18 and cannot be legally allowed into the country based off of David’s visa.
  • Once we arrived, she got a 6 month Visitor’s Visa.  At that point the timer started.
  • If she leaves the country without having her student visa in the works, there is a strong possibility that the Powers That Be would not let her back in the country because the rest of the family is here on David’s Work Visa.  They think she is likely to overstay her welcome.
  • That is why when we all had to go to Berlin, DD had to stay here, in a brand new country in a brand new house all alone for almost 2 weeks.  Like I said, “Difficulty Level David!”
  • DD needs a visa through a program called “Tier 4”, which means she is sponsored by a private educational institution.  She is not allowed to attend a non-private High School because those are government funded and we haven’t earned the right, yet.
  • Oof.
  • DD wants to attend University next year, which makes perfect sense.
  • Private High Schools not only cost 15000-20000 pounds per year, but their pre-university A-Levels programs are 2 years long.  Plus, most students start them when they are 16.  We talked with many of them and the only ones who might consider accepting her all wanted her to take 2 years in their A-Levels programs.
  • For University admissions, you need to have earned a high school diploma and passed certain exams at a certain level.  Since this is Europe, there are charts showing which exams from which countries count for which university programs.
  • Junior Colleges exist, and can often bridge any gaps for people who have had their education interrupted for whatever reason.  BUT, most of them stopped being valid Tier 4 sponsors 2 years ago when regulations were tightened.
  • ugh.
  • DD wants to study Mathematics at University.  None of the schools we found which had a Maths program also had Tier 4 sponsorship.
  • The school we took her out of in Strasbourg has a sister school here in Culham.  They proved useless on all fronts and gave us quite a stern talking to when approached.
  • Her old school in Strasbourg was very kindly willing to bend the rules and let her back in.  But she would have had to literally leave that week and find a place to live, figure out how to get everything set up NOW, figure out what she had missed, and live on her own in Germany/France for the rest of the year.  After some serious deliberation, we all had to admit it just wasn’t going to work.
  • Some universities, including one of DD’s top picks, Bristol, have “Access” programs, designed to bring students up to proper level for University work.  We got them to basically say they would accept her.  BUT, it costs 18,000 Pounds AND doesn’t start until September.  Without a new visa, DD gets deported in April.
  • Oy.
  • Luckily, David had had some positive conversations with one of the closest Community Colleges to our home (still 50 minutes by bus, but closer than most).  They *can* sponsor a Tier 4, but they don’t have a Maths program.  They do have a Science program taught by a Physics professor from Bristol, though.  And he is willing to help prep her for Maths A-Levels (which would flesh out her applications for the Maths programs).  Would that work?
  • YES!  Yes, it will!
  • We hope.
  • She had to pass an interview and a couple of placement exams, but that didn’t prove to be much trouble.
  • Odd things about Tier 4: In addition to the paperwork hoops, there is a pretty dissuasive financial one.  You are expected to have the entire year’s tuition (5k pounds in this case) plus money for the students’ upkeep set aside in an account for a full month before the visa is issued.  For students living on their own in London, upkeep costs are about 1200 pounds per month.  For students living with a “host family” (like us, we hope!) you need about 600 pounds per month (times 9 months).  We have received some assistance on this one from a Purple Fairy Grandmother.  Which is very very appreciated because even for a small Community College all that adds up to over 15000 US! 
  • It took us a full month of dedicated research (literally hours each day) to get this far.  I am starting to think that England itself is Difficulty Level David- at least for those not born here.
DD with her school visitor bag

Wearing her “Visitor” pass for the college.

DD started classes yesterday.  It is mostly folks a bit older than she is- “Returning” students.  But, what the heck.  Actually, some of the students there sound a lot like the people she went to school with in Strasbourg.  For example, people who have traveled so much they don’t really have a “home language” anymore.  But, there are also people returning to school after starting a family.  Or wanting to change careers.  The school seems to have some active clubs and such that DD is curious about, so maybe there are more opportunities there, as well!  It is about an hour bus ride each way to the part of the campus where her classes are.  But, she is handling it all with aplomb.  Very proud of our kiddo!

Random Factoid: Black Friday Weekend is totally a thing here, even though Thanksgiving is not.  The whole mall is plastered with Black Friday sales posters, etc.

Strange Foods Report

CIMG2378Ok, well, one of the more accessible ways to explain cultural differences is to check out the local food scene.  Every country definitely has its own cuisine- and also its Market Quirks.  For instance, I managed to find Cranberry Jelly for Thanksgiving here- but it isn’t in the canned fruits section, nor in the jellies section, or even in the American section- it is in the “Table Sauces” section.  Which, makes sense, but I wouldn’t have thought to look there if I hadn’t been standing right next to it and just happen to notice the jar right next to a jar of Mint Sauce.

So, just as in Germany, I will make an effort to seek out and report back on unusual (or particularly typical) examples of foods we find here.

they are MEGA Dose MarshmallowsMarshmallows: I ordered the Mega pack of marshmallows for delivery from the store.  I had expected a large bag.  I had NOT expected baseball-sized marshmallows!  The can in DS’s other hand, by the way, is breadcrumbs.  I guess they are not used in quantity here.

Chinese DeliveryChinese delivery: Cheap, and delicious.  Way better than any generic “Asian Food” we got in Offenburg.


Pumpkin for the pie proved HARDER to get than pumpkins in Offenburg.  Though, one store claimed they would deliver 2 cans of Libby’s, they swapped out cherry pie filling at the last minutes.  And even though we have markets everywhere, only the one specializing in Caribbean foods carried a pumpkin.  That greenish white one.  I will roast it later.

Lyles logo

Molasses: Almost impossible to find, BUT, Black Treacle is almost the same thing, and that is everywhere.  I will save the technobabble.  Just trust me.  Close enough.  Also, have you ever looked at Lyle’s logo closely?  Take a glance.  “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”…. nice, until you realize it is a swarm of bees on a dead lion.  Ew!


Canned or cartoned stocks and broths aren’t really a thing here.  I have found a can of consommé (for 3 pounds!) but that was it. Instead you are expected to buy these dealies.  Concentrated stock pastes and cubes.  I expected the cubes to be super salty like bullion, but it was actually more rich like stock.

Bonus Weird of the Week: Korean Fish Shaped Cake Snack

David’s work has a tradition of folks bringing in food to share when they make it through their 3 month probationary period.  This was an offering made this week.

Korean Snack Cake Fishy Cake Chocolate filling

The filling was chocolatish, and the cake tasted vaguely almondy.  Not bad, but not a favorite.

Nov 072015
Winlaton House

Winlaton House

Lots of folks have been asking us what it is like living in London.  Honestly, we are just at the very beginning of our adventure here, and many of our experiences have been colored by the frustration of our Visa situation.  However, after a fortnight, it seems as if I ought to be able to at least give a few thoughts and tidbits.  Here, in no particular order, are some observations, notes and experiences I can share.

Hot Water

This is, indeed, a hot water heater! It is used to both heat the house and provide us hot water for washing.  Since it goes on whenever we use any water, I am still not sure if it holds hot water in the tank or just heats on demand.


This is the control panel for the hot water heater. To the left, you select where the water goes (radiators, faucets, both or neither), the mid section is how hot it goes. And the left dial there lets you turn the radiators off and on by timer.

Unlike the Germans, who are understandably exceptionally uncomfortable with Nationalism in any form, the British love, love LOVE Britain, the UK, England and all its wonderful Anglo-exquisiteness with not the least bit of irony or sheepishness.  Everything loudly proclaims its point of origin if it happens to be in the UK.  A few examples from the kitchen.  In case you were concerned, that isn’t just any old flour, that is BRITISH FLOUR you are sifting, there, lady!  Best of British British Flour Eggs from British Farms English Butter Scottish Salmon Union Jack Milk

Some things are acceptable to get elsewhere, however.  For instance:

Cali Red

Cab Sirrah for the win…..a little acidic, maybe, but good for the sauce it made.

Weird English Phrase of the Day: Dessert here is “Pudding” or “Pud” for short.  All dessert.  The Cornish Clotted Cream I bought proudly declares that it will “Crown Your Pud!”


Milk-products here are AWESOME.  EXCELLENT.  FABULOUS.  The BEST I have ever had- and I am a foody.  Butter, cream, double cream, milk, cheese, butter, clotted cream, yogurt, butter.  Seriously, you guys.  SERIOUSLY!!

Caveate: The ice cream is a bit variable.  Most stores have very limited supply and assortment.  I maybe just haven’t found the right places to look, yet, but a line in Good Omens makes me think perhaps this is just SOP for England….

He brightened up. “Do you know,” he said, “my cousin said that in America there’s shops that sell thirty-nine different flavors of ice cream?”
This even silenced Adam, briefly.
“There aren’t thirty-nine flavors of ice cream,” said Pepper. “There aren’t thirty-nine flavors in the whole world.”
“There could be, if you mixed them up,” said Wensleydale, blinking owlishly. “You know. Strawberry and chocolate. Chocolate and vanilla.” He sought for more English flavors. “Strawberry and vanilla and chocolate,” he added, lamely.

—  Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

When I was a kid, we lived in a beach cottage built in the 1920’s by its owners.  It had clearly been someone’s Do It Yourself project on many occasions.  While at that age such things meant little to me, I remember my parents discussing the various idiosyncrasies of the house often.  Baseboards didn’t line up.  Black Mold everywhere.  Dry rot. And nothing level in the whole house.   This place makes that place look well planned and immaculately maintained.  Here are just a few of the quirks:

Why staple a bleached washcloth to the wall

Why would I staple a bleached out washcloth to the wall?


Because these vents are everywhere….. The house has clearly had some issues with fungus and damp. And at some point they decided the best way to deal with it was to simply drill large holes through the walls, cover them with a bit of mesh and call it done. Actually works ok in the bathroom. NOT so good in Audric’s Bedroom.

Shower Angle

Notice anything about that shower? Like, perhaps that the angle it points is roughly Wallward? To shower, you have to hold it in your hand.

Multi Caulk

Why use one color of ineffective caulk, when you could just smear on two?

Linen closet

the Linen Closet…. Fresh!

Older Bits Doorframe and window

Windows were replaced with double-pane throughout the house, but not the ones on the inside….. That is some old school glass, that is.

Drunk Painters

Pretty sure they hired a team of drunk 12 year olds to paint the bathroom

Door framing

Wasn’t room for cornice allll the way to the wall, you see.

Sink- Nailed It

Nuff said

Darkness is mold

Hard to tell, but the paint doesn’t actually cover the layer underneath it- which was made primarily of fungus that has already been creeping through to cover the wall. I have been mopping the shower ceiling daily with bleach.

Toilet Pipes

Mom and Dad sing along with me: Who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through, who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through? Who’ll be sitting on the toilet when the floor finally falls through? You know it could be you! (lyrics by my Mom, HB Hall, tune- Battle Hymn of the Republic. Circa 1980).

All that said, we are making progress in getting the place livable and workable and even somewhat cozy…. Not there *YET*.  For instance, I am currently sleeping in Audric’s bed, he is sleeping on his sister’s floor and David sleeps on our floor:

David Bed

One more week before our bed arrives.  EVERYTHING takes longer here, from what we can tell.  It just… does.

Dwarf Paper Towls

It may TAKE longer, but that does not mean it IS longer.  That paper towel roll is on a standard paper towel dispenser from Germany.  This is the LARGE roll here- the tube next to it is the standard size for paper towels in England.  The mop and broom are, oddly, similarly proportioned.  Brits clean with miniature supplies…… Why?

Choir Greeted Us instead of Taxi

When we arrived at Heathrow, the car company failed to show up. However, we were greeted by a full a capella choir trying to raise money for charity.


There have been non-stop local fireworks since we arrived. Largely, we assume, due to this shop. We rather thought they would stop after Guy Fawkes Day, but…. nope.

This is how you buy your gas and electric here. You can choose whatever vendor you want, then you go down to the local mini-market and refill your cards. Pre-pay. There is a meter in the Harry Potter Room under the stairs that shows what is left. Voila.

This is how you buy your gas and electric here. You can choose whatever vendor you want, then you go down to the local mini-market and refill your cards. Pre-pay. There is a meter in the Harry Potter Room under the stairs that shows what is left. Voila.

This made me crack up. I might have been tired.

This made me crack up. I might have been tired.


What does the fox say? And they say it outside the bedroom vent at 3 AM! not creepy at allll… nope…. (ok, yeah, it is, but it is also cool)

Other frequent visitors:


Big Dove

And, because I am always fascinated how various places express this sentiment:


Next time, more on our quest to get my medical care set up, and various other adventures.

Nov 072015

Apparently there is nothing lazy about London.

Today marks 2 weeks in London and we are just starting to get into the swing of things.  If, of course, by that you mean “are able to eat and take showers and get to the grocery store”.  If you mean “got the kids in school, can get medical needs dealt with, and know how to speak the local lingo”, we are pretty much not swinging at all.  The pendulum is stuck and glaring at us.  And it just handed me a stack of paperwork to fill out.

By means of illustration, allow me to present you with two anecdotes: One involves my day’s activities.  The other, David’s.

At 1 PM David left the house for a quick run into town…. 

He planned to check out some new routes, look for some tennies, and pick up some items from the bigger market located in the Town Center.  He took Audric with him, just for the male bonding and brute strength carrying force (very useful when carting groceries across town on a bus).

4 hours later, they returned.  They had most of the groceries.  But, no tennis shoes.  David’s feet were very sore, and he was cranky.  For three hours, they had tromped from shoe store to shoe store.  At first they were daunted by the prices- shoes at the mall seemed to start at 80 pounds ($120) and go up from there.  But, eventually they found some basic black ones for 50 ($75).  But, David didn’t know his British shoe size.

“Can you just measure, please?”

“Oh no!  We don’t have the equipment for that!”

“???  You are a shoe store right?   Hmm, ok.  Well, how about we just try converting European sizes.  I am a 44.”

And so it went.  Unfortunately, the EU size conversions weren’t working well, and all the shoes were either very small or very large.  *None* of the regular shoe stores had a measuring tool!  Finally, they sent him to a high end men’s store, which was rumored to have just such a mythical device.  David feigned interest in a pair of loafers and the attendant dutifully pulled out a large bench-like contraption attached to what David described mostly a normal foot measurer, but with the addition of some rubber bands and straps.  The measuring process was “remarkably intimate”.  But, in the end, he got his size: 8.5.

Good enough, but, this store had no shoes that were anything like what he needed.  So, back they went to some of the other stores- including Reebok, Foot Locker, and several local variants.  But, NONE of them had a simple black athletic shoe in an 8.5.  (He discovered early on that saying “tennis shoe” scared them, but “sports shoe” got the idea across).

At the Foot Locker, they were having a sale, and the salesman had a Can Do attitude rivaling that of Cinderella’s sisters.  He didn’t have an 8.5, but he did have a 9.  And, here, if you just stuff the toe with some paper- see!  Perfect!

David left with no shoes and no good leads on where to find some.

At 1 PM I went online to find the paperwork we needed to get Audric into the school system here….

At first the website was down.  But, eventually it came back up and I printed the application- 8 pages.  But that was just the start.  In addition you also must attach birth certificate, visa and passport, a copy of your local tax bill, and an officially stamped form letter from his last headteacher describing the number of days he was absent and a variety of other bits and pieces of information that they deemed interesting.  Plus, even though they will assign you a school, you must designate your top three preferred schools in order of desire.

That is where things got tricky.  On the seconday schools website, there are 17 schools listed.  But, they make no effort whatsoever to group them by location, or tell you whether they are private schools, religious schools, specialty schools, etc.  And, in fact, many of the schools themselves make determining this information difficult.  So, for the next 2 hours, I pored over the entire list of local schools in our zone, comparing them to our location on a map, and digging through their web sites to find out just the most superficial information about them.  Here is what I found out:

  • Abbey Manor College- for “unconventional” students who have been unsuccessful in normal schools.
  • Addey and Stanhope Secondary School- Speech and Language Hub for the area (A note on special education in London– unlike the US where the experts travel from school to school, instead, here, they seem to like to sort kids into schools where the experts stay.  So, Addey and Stanhope here has all the Speech and Language therapists.  Other schools have specialties in Autism Spectrum, Severe Learning Disabilities, etc.  Many of these schools are primarily mainstream, but have special supports built into their structure.  Others, like those supporting more severely challenged kids, are specialty facilities just for them). I figure that with his dysgraphia there is a chance they will want DS to go here, but we are hoping not…
  • Bonus Pastor Catholic College- Catholic.  Alas, because it is on our street.
  • Conisborough College, a Colfe’s Associate School- Close-by and looks possible!
  • Deptford Green- WAY to the North
  • Forest Hill-  Local, but all boys
  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College- Music and ICT (computer) Focus school, fairly distant.
  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s Knights Academy-  Close by, but a Sports focus.
  • Prendergast Ladywell School- only goes to age 16, and all girls
  • Prendergast School- Co-ed from the 6th form (next year I think), but a bit distant
  • Prendergast Vale School- linked to the two above, also a little distant.  The boy on their website cover looks very much like he will join a fraternity in a couple years.
  • Sedgehill Secondary School- Local basic highschool
  • St. Dunstan’s College- “Independent, Forward Thinking”  I learned “Independent” means “Expensive”.  This one is 15k per year.
  • St. Matthew Academy- Catholic
  • Sydenham High School- Girls only and Independent (also 15k per year)
  • Sydenham Secondary School- (same as above)
  • Trinity Church of England School, Lewisham– yeah, it is CofE.

So, of all those schools (and a couple more I found on the map), there are really only 2 that seem a possibly good fit.  About the number of high schools you would expect to find in your area, really.  But, wow was it a lot of work to figure that out!!!  Once I get the form back from his old school, we have been told it will take 20 days for DS to receive information on his assigned school.  Then we get to buy him his uniforms, and away we go!

Figuring Our Schools

Figuring Our Schools

The Leathersellers Company’s involvement in Lewisham dates back to providing the original site for Colfe’s School in 1634 and the original site for Prendergast School in 1890. The Leathersellers then funded Prendergast’s move to its current location in 1995. As one of the oldest livery companies (or trade guilds) of the City of London, charity has long become our main raison d’être, and education has become an increasingly far-reaching activity. Many of our members volunteer for governance work. This commitment to governance is singularly the most important part of our role in Lewisham. We are often cited by senior figures in Lewisham as having made a significant contribution to education in the borough. You can be sure that that commitment will remain for many future generations of children.


Next up- a bunch of photos and words on our set up here.