Saturday, 4 February 2017

Road trippin' across the continent

I realize now that the title of my site doesn't work anymore but who cares, it has a nice ring to it. I am open to new titles that are Texas related so feel free to make suggestions!

I don't know if anyone realizes this but 5 years ago to the day I posted this picture. This was the last 31 years of my life packed into these two bags as I said goodbye to my family, friends and my job, then left home to move from Liverpool to New York.

Little did I know what was in store for me. I thought I was taking a career break and in 3 years I would be back in Liverpool on my beat. New York and the USA in general could never provide me the same satisfaction as I had from my job at home and there was no way the lifestyle here would be more suited to my personality. What can one of the biggest cities in the world offer a boy from Liverpool who loves the outdoors and his relatively small town community (compared to NY obviously)?

Those of you who have followed my journey already know that New York has been good to me. I am not going to regurgitate my older blogs with tales of all the good, bad and ugly that went on while I was here. However, I am going to say New York surprised me. When I arrived and met Dana, I will never forget him telling me "Listen dude, if you let it, New York will kick your ass!"

I am happy to say I didn't let it and I had a great time here. New York gave me some lifelong friends, some unforgettable experiences, a car, my cat and my wife who as you all know also comes with a dog!

New York has lifespan though. If you are not a lifelong New Yorker this place will make you tired, impatient, irritable, agoraphobic. I'm sure even for some lifers it will do the same. I think 5 years was perfect timing, just enough to understand the city but not so long it completely drained me. You start to crave the quality of life adjustments that New York doesn't have to offer (unless you are a millionaire or lifelong apartment sharer). Simple things like space, a kitchen with more than just a sink and a cooker, a window with real access to daylight, an apartment where you don't have to worry about your neighbor being a hoarder because the pests she attracts come into your apartment. Taking the dog out without worrying about them getting run over, letting the cat out the door without worrying the same.

Moving out of the city comes with its downside as well though. I won't be able to just walk across the street and get coffee, beer, groceries, or anything else you can think of that you might need in a pinch. I won't be able to walk to the local brewery, bar, restaurant and have brunch without counting my drinks.

Moving out of New York though has opened my eyes to a new adventure, a new chapter in my life which will be full of new experiences. Those of you who didn't know me when I was in high school won't realize this but it was my dream trip to travel across the US, in particular I wanted to drive the west coast road, north to south. I didn't think I was ever really going to get close to achieving this. This trip will have to do for now but I am certainly one step closer than I thought I would ever get.

On Monday night, I started my trip. I didn't post anything because true to Dana's prediction when I arrived in New York, it decided it was going to finally kick my ass. It gave me a pretty bad cold/flu the day before I left. I think it was trying to make it difficult for me to leave! I will miss New York, I have some great friends there who I know I will remain friends with for life.

In 12 days I will join Myrna, Murray and Velcro in Grand Prairie, Texas to begin the next chapter of my life. Not before hitting a bunch of places along the way. I am spending the weekend in Cincinnati, having already hit Pittsburg and Cleveland. I still have Louisville, Nashville, St. Louis and Memphis along the route which will take me almost half way across the continent. This is the longest road trip I have ever taken but hey, life is and adventure and my Dad constantly reminds me it's also too short!!

Check out my overall route and I'll write some more about my experiences along the way!!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Back to school

I have to say when I moved to New York almost four years ago, the last thing I was thinking about was going back to school. I thought I had done my time in school growing up, especially after joining Merseyside Police and having a career with them for life. You really don't need to go and do any further education with the police unless it is for your Sergeant’s / Inspector’s exams or you are specializing in a field that it would benefit. Most of these skills however, are not transferable to the real world.

That is not to say the experience, legal knowledge and problem solving skills a police officer learns over time are not valuable. But typically, once you join the police, you don't need to go back to university or college to study because you have a career until retirement.

When I joined the police all I had was my GCSEs and A Levels. I skipped university for some life experience. Some would say I was stupid but I would say I was tired of being in the classroom. I wanted to be free of this routine and explore the world. I took some really crappy jobs to get by but in every single one of them I made great friends who I am still in touch with and when I had saved enough money I went travelling.

Travelling was also a lesson in the following:-

Budgeting - having limited funds and no income really makes you think about what is important. A night in a hotel or a night in a tent at the roadside.

Communication - being able to strike up a conversation with anyone in a strange place in order to get the things you need and get by. I remember being taken into a supermarket in Brussels in the heart of European parliament looking like a homeless person with my backpack because I had learned how to communicate. I also remember being taken in by a local village and partying with the entire town because there was only one train a day.

Navigation - Figuring out the best route from Madrid to Amsterdam via Prague with no income in February is not the easiest task. 

Survival - Waking up in the trailer of 16 wheeler during a snow storm near hypothermic, but a whole lot better than sleeping in the tent!

Negotiation - Learning how not to get arrested in a foreign country and turn a potential arrest into a ride to the local train station.

Language - Foots back to communication but all language is similar so learning along the way was fun, and in those instances where you couldn't learn the language, hey it’s amazing what drawing a picture can do!

All of these experiences were lessons in their own way. The thing is, this ignited my passion to see more of the world, and ultimately to an opportunity to come New York.

One of the harder decisions of my life was whether to make a go of it here in New York long term or to go back to the police in the UK. It seems like a no brainer to some people but life experience and a police education don't necessarily get you very far here. I realized if I am going to stay in the US, it is time to finish my formal education and go back to school.

I started at Nassau Community college in the fall semester, for you folks back home the autumn term. I am starting by working toward an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts which is a general two-year degree. In order to achieve this I have to complete 64 credits and this is the equivalent to a foundation degree in the UK, so 2 years full time study. 

In order to be accepted onto this course though I had to pass an entrance exam because my qualifications are from outside the US. This involved mathematics (arithmetic and algebra), English writing and English reading. I passed all but the algebra. The teacher reassuringly informed me that it was a perishable skill and since it is SO long since I was at school it would be a good refresher. I was required to complete a remedial algebra class for no credits as part of my fall semester.

In order to ease myself in and with holiday season about to kick off I decided to do the math class and a photography class for a total of 3 credits. This means by Christmas, all being well I should only need another 61 credits. I can get some transfer credit from my A-Levels but I think I might skip that and complete the entire course here. If anything this is a good refresher but it is good to have both options.

I thought this was going to be a very expensive experience and while I am lucky enough to have a school nearby that has relatively cheap courses, it still costs me $189 per credit. So when you add up the total 64 credits it comes out at $12,096. If I wasn't a resident of the state then this cost would be double. The other thing to consider is a Bachelors degree would cost a further 64 credits. This means an additional 64 credits at a four-year school but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Wish me luck and I will keep you posted with how I am getting along. I know I will have some photo's to post, after all I am doing a class in it now and it has really reignited my passion with the camera!

Finally, I want to wish my Dad a happy birthday for the 6th. I will have a beer or to celebrate for you as well.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Prevention is better than a cure!

Having lived here now for three and a half years I am starting to finally understand how health care works here. Its pretty expensive, but that being said it makes you think about your own health much more.

I know there is a lot of debate about which system is better, the UK or the US and I have to say there is positive to both although, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are living, opinions are very different.

Recently in work we changed our health care package and it caused a bit of confusion and a lot of concern that it was going to be even more expensive and less effective. This made me think really hard about the system and forced me to learn the ins and outs in a little more detail. It also helps when your wife works in communications and writes the health care booklets for her company.

So lets take a step back and look at the UK system, which I am used to and have grown up with. You get sick, you go the doctor, you get fixed, no bill, maybe a prescription at the most but that's kind of that. I think in my time growing up I had very few doctor visits. Mainly because I was healthy a child and my only real hospital visit as a child was getting hit by a car a breaking my leg. I went to the hospital, they fixed me and here I am. Its more than I can say for the car that hit me, but that's another story entirely.

Anyway, lets use the getting hit by a car as an example, I was picked up off the street by and ambulance, taken to accident and emergency, x-ray, plastered leg (more than once, children don't know how to keep that stuff dry), released with crutches and had several follow up visits. Now, I am not sure how much all that costs but I'm betting it isn't cheap. I didn't pay anything for the medical costs in the UK, and yes I was only 8 years old so I wouldn't get the bill, but my parents didn't get a bill either.

In the US, the same scenario on my current plan, It would cost me at minimum $1,500 and then if the cost of the treatment was greater than the $1,500, I would have to pay 20% of that cost up to $4,500. This is a bargain when you consider the actual cost of some of these treatments.

Emergency room visit:-

Ambulance Ride - $400-$1200
Low Level treatment - $150-$3,000
Moderate treatment - $400 - upwards
High level/critical care treatment - $2000 for the first hour and $500 every additional hour
Surgery - $20,000 - upwards

None of these prices include the doctors fee which is pretty much what they choose to charge for their expertise in their field.

Now I know there are one or two of you sitting there saying something like "we pay too, it comes out of my pay check whether I am sick or not" and I would agree with you to an extent. So, in both systems you pay through a payroll contribution, in the US you pay again when you are treated for something. The scheme I am in has a savings account for my contributions. I save and if I never get sick then I can use it for my retirement. If I get sick, I can use it for medical bills. The idea is you never have no money to pay your medical bills.

The other thing it really makes you think about is where you might go for a treatment. After all an x-ray in a hospital uses the same equipment as an x-ray in an urgent care and an x-ray in a doctors office but the range of price could be very significant. It makes you assess whether you NEED to go to the hospital or could you get the same treatment at your doctors office.

Enough about the money though because that really is only a small part of it. I would challenge you all to ask yourself, when was the last time you had a physical exam in the doctors office and what prompted it? 

I can tell you prior to joining the police in 2006, my first real physical was by the police physician. After that I had a medical every now and again at the Occupational Health Unit but mainly because they were looking at the health effect of the job on police officers and most professions don't have that luxury. Now I have a regular physical every year and they send me a comprehensive report with all my blood screening results and any emerging concerns along with how to prevent future health complaints.

My US audience are going the be reading this and saying "Duh, of course you do! It is normal to have a physical every year" while my UK audience are probably saying "why would I go to the doctor if there is nothing wrong with me?"

This leads me to the point of writing today which is preventative care. Preventative care is free on my plan. So my annual physical which involves the complicated blood screening and very detailed results, is 100% free. Not only is it free, it is incentive driven which means my health care provider gives me money to take advantage of this service with the idea that catching these things early will prevent the long term, costly treatments that could be avoided with a small amount of personal attention.

The trend for me on all three physical exams is weight, in fact weight has been something I have constantly been told to reduce, even at my peak fitness level I was told I was too heavy.

For those of you who know me well will also know that anything I can measure or put a number on makes me very competitive. So this is my commitment to improve my own health and on my next years physical see that in my numbers.
I'm calling it my preventative pledge to push ups, plank and portion control. These are the three minimum changes I am committing to on a daily basis. This isn't me getting all self righteous about being fit and healthy. It is more of a personal study. I'm going to start with this 30 day challenge to get focus and then just keep it up. For portion control I need to remember that just because it is delicious doesn't mean I have to eat every last bite. In fact sometimes the leftovers are better the next day.

In addition, I am going to stop drinking beer in the house. A glass of wine is OK but limit to one glass. My desired outcome is simply improvement on my results from this year. I am pretty sure these simple changes will make a big difference and I am curious if they will really have an impact on my overall weight. We shall see in a year when I get my next results.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Where does all the time go?

So I wrote my last post with a clear stipulation that I would be writing more frequently, especially given that my Nan told me I hadn’t been writing much lately. Then I look down and nearly 8 months have passed!! It was a surprise call from these cheeky monkeys that prompted my writing today though.

So I guess the big news in my life since the last post is that I got married, to my beautiful wife Myrna in a small ceremony in Manhattan at City Hall. It was very quick and before we even realized what was going on we were on our way out of the place, marriage certificate in hand!    

In a place that has so many people lining up to get married, especially in a system where there is a transaction for everything, means there are also opportunities! What better opportunity for the casual photographer to make some money than to hang out here and offer to take pictures for people on their big day! I know a few people who have photographed weddings, including myself and I can tell you, these guys are true professionals. They aren’t just photographing one wedding party; they are photographing multiple wedding parties! Serious business!

Don’t fancy being an opportunist photographer? No? Ok, how about a witness? Random people handing out cards outside the building, “hey man, need a witness? $20? No? Ok, congratulations on your big day!!”

Even city hall themselves were making a killing! They had a full on NYC tourist style tat shop with “Just Married” banners, rubber ducky cake toppers, t-shirts with bride and groom on them, and a photo booth with the real city hall as a backdrop, although that one was free!

Anyway, for those of you who couldn’t be there for the wedding, I wanted to paint you the picture. We have some of our closest local friends join us for dinner afterwards at one of our favorite restaurants MichaelAngelo's in Astoria, and then the day after we went away for a few days to Vermont.  The day itself was blur, it passed so quickly, and it has already been just over two months married. I feel damn lucky to have her in my life and am looking forward to a long and happy life together.

I am going to keep this one short but I am planning on writing more often. If I’m honest, I miss writing on here and I have plenty to write about, even if you guys don’t want to read it! Trouble is, I guess you only find out if it was worth reading once you have read it!! Sorry about that, sort of!

Until next time……

Saturday, 13 December 2014

12 Months in 3 Minutes

I didn't realize but it has been just over a year since I posted on here and I thought it was time for a proper update about what I've been up to.

A lot has happened in the last year and I could write about all of it. It would take me all night to write and probably even longer to read so I decided maybe its just easier to sum it up in this 2 minute video which I have dedicated to my Grampy, who sadly passed away last month before I could get home and tell him all about what I have been doing the last year. In addition, my Nan told me off for not writing this often enough so I am going to be back to writing this a little more often so I can keep you folks back home who are interested, up to date with what I am doing. Click the link here if the video doesn't appear ---> 12 Months in 3 Minutes

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

We're all going on a summer holiday......

August has been one hell of a month! I was going to try and write this a week or two ago but there was still plenty going on and so I figured I would wait and do it as a mini series when I had done it all. So I will start with my vacation or holiday for the folks back home that will all be shouting at me for the Americanism. 

I had an opportunity to go up north to Vermont and get out of the city for a long weekend. A four hour drive north but it was not long before seeing the beautiful countryside of upstate New York. Although it rained for the first hour, it was still a very scenic drive. I did the drive all in one go and I didn't really know what to expect from where I was headed. Given the drive up there though I knew I was in for a treat. 

I was meeting Mae at the Dorset Playhouse where she was working as the house manager and was pretty blown away by the place. A stunning old building that had a real Shakespearean look from the outside, which is I'm sure is no insult for a theatre. 

She had got me a ticket for the show that was playing that evening as well which was a nice way to start my trip. After a long drive I sat down to watch "Barefoot in the park" which is a Neil Simon play about a couple of newlyweds who move into a brownstone in NYC. It was extremely funny and I had a great time. It was part of the Dorset Theatre Festival and I would encourage everyone to checkout their website and support them however you can.

That night we went back the house, which was actually more like a barn and played some pretty serious drinking games. Although the dice didn't make a full appearance, Roxanne definitely did, but not before I rode the bus..... 
I will have to refresh myself on the rules for this one because I was pretty drunk but I liked this one and the one we played after Roxanne, yes I did say after Roxanne.... I'm telling you it was a serious drinking night and a great way to start my vacation. 

I spent a large portion of my trip during the daytime exploring the Vermont countryside. It is such a green state, I guess that's why it has the nickname "The Green Mountain State". The mountains were gorgeous, the hiking was excellent and there were lots of little streams to stop and take a dip in which was great given how warm the weather was. It was not hot like New York though, it was a drier and cleaner heat. 

In the evening I hung out and watched TV, drank with the guys and after being introduced to how good the night sky was, thanks to Abby with "GO OUTSIDE AND LOOK AT THE SKY IMMEDIATELY!" I spent the next three nights with Ashley trying to catch the highlights of the Perseid meteor shower. Not an ounce of light pollution and so many stars. The meteor shower was fantastic, massive fireballs shooting across the sky. I still believe there is a crater somewhere in the woods nearby after one of them. It almost like the one on the news in Russia recently. The first night was slow, the second night was cloudy and we ended up trying to just spot stars let alone meteors, the last night was the best and we saw plenty of them, quite a spectacle. 

I didn't want to go home. I I could have gone onto a farm, got a room in a barn and a job, I would have happily stayed. It was such a peaceful place. In the morning it was only the sound of the birds that you could hear rather than roads, traffic and sirens. The drive back the next day was like the drive out, rained a lot. It was a little bit depressing because I didn't really want to go back to the city. 

Thanks to Mae for giving me the opportunity and also Jason, Abby and Ashley for the accommodation which made the trip so much more affordable. Oh and I pinched the picture from Facebook cos I didn't get one of the 4 of you before I left! Also, thanks to Dana and Neely to letting me use their car for the trip so I didn't need to hire one. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Corruption or just professional courtesy??

So I have been a little quiet on my blog recently because I have been so busy with work and trying to get out of the city a bit more during the summer so I can relax. However I recently had a Skype conversation with my Mum and was told that my Nan had commented on my lack of blogging. So this one is for you Nan. 

Now I have been observing the way the Police work over here in comparison to home and I feel like they are a little more of a boys club over here. There is a lot of "who you know" involved in the whole thing. 

So, when I joined in the UK I was told that if someone tried to vouch for you with recruitment when you applied then your application would be binned. Over here if you know a cop then they can call the recruitment investigator and actually vouch for you as part of the process. Only a small thing really, but given that the Chief Constable in North Yorkshire was reprimanded for disreputable conduct in 2011 for nepotism when he tried to help a relative through the first stage of the recruitment process. 

Now obviously this is one of those things that is open to discussion. The recruitment process is so thorough anyway that nepotism can only take you so far. However, I am surprised that it still has a place in such a developed country. 

So it brings me to the main point in hand, courtesy cards. Now I don't know if they are a nationwide thing but they certainly exist in NY. The train of thought behind them is that if you carry them and you are stopped by the police you will be afforded a sort of "professional courtesy" if you will. It is not clear exactly what that means but it certainly makes me feel like it is a sort of "get out of jail free" card.

If this is not the reason for them then I don't really see their purpose at all. Now again, in the UK I always felt like if you didn't act because you knew someone was a cop then you could get in trouble for that and if you identified yourself as a cop to try and get out of something then you could get in trouble for that as well because you should be setting an example and not treating people more favorably due to their job.  

Now, let me be clear because I am not saying all the cops over here are corrupt or dishonest. Nor am I saying that cops here will even afford the "professional courtesy" expected of the card holder should they produce it during an offence. They have a difficult job to do and I am sure they do it very well. 

I am opening up the debate to see what people's opinions are regarding this subject. I have added a poll to the top right of my blog for you to vote. I am interested to see what people think about this and I know it is only a small issue but feel free to comment with opinions.