Well, we’ve done it.
We’ve eaten ice cream, paid too much for groceries, and driven dangerously close to opposing traffic. But now we can finally declare ourselves expats. The adventure starts here.
Before we left we’d read and heard a lot of horror stories about long-haul flying with kids. For a while Alex and I were junkies on the stuff, binging on epic tales of tears and vomit. But we were ready. We packed spare clothes for all of us. We brought enough food to feed the whole plane. Our iPad was bursting at the seams with new apps, games and films. Moments before we boarded, I found Alex in a trance-like state, banging her head repeatedly against the wall. We even created fake birth certificates so we could publicly disown them if all hell broke loose.
But the flight was a doddle. The kids were great, and we didn’t receive a single dirty look from anyone the entire flight. Apart from Ava of course, but she’s been pissed off ever since I revealed that Kinder Eggs aren’t sold in the US.
Little-known fact: Kinder Eggs are illegal in the US. They’ve had a ban on candies with embedded toys since 1938, due to choking/health concerns. Which is an interesting priority, given the number of people in the US accidentally shot by a toddler with a gun. I digress…
To be honest, I am a bit concerned that this move is sending Ava off the rails. Take a look at the displays of rebellion below, first in Heathrow and then on the other side in California. The kid is just a year or two away from a DUI and her own reality show.
We arrived two days ago. On our very first morning, I witnessed a car break-in in broad daylight, right outside the local Starbucks. I thank my company for arranging this on my behalf, which I suspect was part of the planned orientation.
So far we’ve been fairly productive. We picked up the rental cars, set up a bank account, did a food shop, and were given a tour of the surrounding areas. When you throw toddlers and jet lag into the mix, all of the above become extreme sports in their own right. But here’s what we’ve learned:
- Even when people are under pressure, the customer service out here is second to none. At Hertz they were short-staffed and there was a queue outside the door. The guy in charge passed out an enormous box of cookies for waiting customers, to apologise for the wait. In the UK, you’d consider yourself lucky if you got as much as eye contact in that scenario.
- American banks love paperwork. Just to open a single account, I spent an hour solidly signing my name. This explains why woodcutters in California drive Bentleys and not trucks.
- Navigating the supermarket requires a satnav and superhuman will power. The place is enormous, and I reckon 85% of it is bad for you. On the plus side, we can buy one sandwich and it will feed the four of us.
Today is July 4th, which is when Americans celebrate the time Will Smith saved them from aliens. My boss has kindly invited us to a bbq and pool party, ending in a fireworks display. Alex and the girls are all pretty excited about it, mainly because they get to spend the day with people other than me. Based on her performance so far this morning, Daisy is planning to mark the event by crying all day.
Happy Independence Day, people.
1. The chippy. When Londoners look for a place to live, they search against 3 key criteria: local transport links, quality of schools, and proximity to good fish and chips.
2. Middle-class rebellion. This is rife in North London. Parking your BMW defiantly in a no parking zone, and – horror of horrors – leaving a coffee stain on the counter top, right beside the designated dirty spoon receptacle.
Soon after the above photos were taken, a middle-aged lady sped away from her local Waitrose in a Range Rover, with excesses of free samples from the cheese counter.
3. Celebrities. London is home to some of the most famous faces in the world. And some other randoms who look just like them. I call this one “Micky Gervais”.
4. Bagels, from a handful of bakeries across London. Perfect for Sunday lunch or at 2am, when you inexplicably find yourself on Brick Lane, overly drunk and an expensive cab ride away from home. Get them when they’re fresh and your teeth will sink right through. Eat them the next day and it’s like biting into a rockface.
5. Jay Z has 99 problems, but Mr Whippy’s flake ain’t one. Nothing says 80s childhood more than being enticed from your house by the tinny sounds of Greensleeves, and then narrowly avoiding an oncoming car as you run across the street. The taste of ice cream was always that much better right after a near-death experience.