Escape from furlough

Furlough room is now my office

I got a call on July 3rd from my boss. The first thing he said when I answered is: “we’re bringing you back.” I felt like a huge load was lifted off my back. I returned to work (well, working from home) that following Monday.

Stewart had been using the office while I was on furlough. I hung out in the sitting room: my furlough room. I tried to keep my mind occupied. I read ebooks, started this blog, and took a number of online courses. I would go on a walk the same time every day on the same route.

It helped to keep my mind focused when I was furloughed. If I didn’t, I would run through a gambit of emotions: from depression, to anger, to frustration, to isolation, but then back to relaxation with a sprinkle of a new found purpose.

People would tell me to enjoy my time off. I joined a Facebook group for furloughed people and engaged with the group. There were a lot of people that had it a lot worse than I did. A number of people missed the cut off for furlough and were unemployed. Lots of people were made redundant.

Some people would tell me that I should be grateful that my situation is not as bad as others. I don’t know if I find gratitude or satisfaction in knowing someone else is struggling more than I am. I was surprised at the furlough-shaming. People that were still working had to pick up extra work to cover their colleagues on furlough. Some seemed to view furloughed people as being on a government paid holiday.

I am happy to be back at work. It brings in a sense of normalcy and some hope for job and financial security. I’m glad that I did the on-line training. It really helped me put those lessons learned into practice. We aren’t necessarily out of the dark yet, but at least now I can see a spark of light.

Goodbye furlough room and hello office!

The Zoo in Scotland

Ringo (dog) and Squeaky (cat) watching people from our window in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

We have five cats (Bonnie, Nuntis, Squeaky, Missy, and Mable) and four dogs (Barney, Coco, Dakota, and Ringo). It was a lot of pets to have in a two bedroom apartment in the Red Light District when we lived in Amsterdam. The apartment had a small patio and no back yard, so we took them on constant walks. We also used a dog walking service. They would pick up the dogs once a week and take them to a field or to the beach to get exercise. They loved it, but of course they came back absolutely covered in mud.

Scotland is a much more practical place for our pets. Our house has a fenced in back yard. The cats would never go outside in Amsterdam (except one cat would escape into the apartment building stairwell and run upstairs to poop on our neighbours welcome mat). Now the cats are outside almost all of the time. They wander the neighbourhood a bit, but are pretty good about staying close to home.

When we were moving to Scotland, we looked for a dog walking service similar to the one we had in Amsterdam. One of our challenges is that the two male dogs (Ringo and Barney) have not established who the alpha dog is; and they are constantly growling at each other trying to sort it. They have had a few fights. We decided to use two walking services so we could split up the males. One of the walking services is a day care where we can drop off /pick up Ringo and Coco. They go to the beach or to other sites. The other service picks up Barney and Dakota. They go on long walks and stay at the owners home to hang out with other dogs. It works out pretty nicely and gives us a pretty effective built-in back up plan in case one walker is unavailable.

One positive part of being furloughed from my job is that I can spend more quality time with the pets. They seem to love it. We continue to use the two walking services to maintain the routine and to hopefully help keep them in business. At some point, I should be able to return to work. My job requires traveling to different sites, so I’m trying to make the most of this time with them at home.

Today, Coco is having some surgery to remove a lump on one of her mammary glands. She had some lumps last year and they turned out to be benign. I’m hoping that that will be the case with this one. She’s 10 but still has the energy of a puppy. She has a certain phobia with different types of floors. I’m not sure if it’s the pattern that she doesn’t like, or if it smells strange to her. The vet is at the back of a pet store. Coco hates the store’s floors; and I have to carry her every time we visit since she refuses to walk on their floor.

The current pandemic rules require the veterinarian assistant to meet me outside to get the dog. The poor assistant had to carry Coco and she is a bit heavy. Fingers crossed that the surgery will go smoothly and that this tumour will also be benign.

Aye, love your wee accent

Sleeping policeman = speed bump

I was a Mormon missionary in Puerto Rico when I was 19. Missionaries that need to learn a foreign language spend extra time in the Missionary Training Centre learning basic phrases and memorising the lessons in the foreign language. I knew some basic Spanish from high school classes, but I wasn’t fluent. I remember giving my first lesson in Puerto Rico. The family interrupted me and said in English: “I’m sorry, we don’t understand English very well.” I answered in English: “I know, that’s why I’m speaking Spanish.” They were polite about it, but I was obviously not speaking understandable Spanish.

I took some French classes when I moved to Belgium. I think that I was mentally wired to the fact that my conversations are either in English or in Spanish. My French instructor would say: “that’s good, now repeat it in French instead of in Spanish.” I had some Dutch classes the first year I moved to Amsterdam. I never mastered the proper pronunciation; but the class helped with understanding some simple conversations. Learning a new language is one of the adventures of moving to another country. It can be fun, but it can also be frustrating on both sides of the conversation.

I didn’t need to learn a foreign language when I moved to Scotland. But, I underestimated how different the accent is and how many words have different meanings. Some of the different meanings can be embarrassing. I didn’t understand why people were blushing and laughing when I was shopping for a fanny pack (I won’t say what a fanny is in the UK but it’s not a butt) or when I went to the dry cleaners and asked if my pants (underwear) were ready.

When I lived in Brussels and Amsterdam, I avoided asking people to translate a question they just asked in the local language into English. They don’t expect Americans to translate from English into French or Dutch when they visit the US. Although, most Dutch speak perfect English. If I didn’t understand 100%, I would answer in the affirmative “oui” or “ja”. I figured that would be the safe answer and less frustrating than saying I don’t really understand.

Saying “yes” didn’t always work well for me in Scotland when I didn’t understand the question. I said “yes” to subscribing to the weekly Kilmarnock Standard; I said “yes” to having milk delivered twice a week; and I even said “yes” to donating £10 a month to breast cancer. These aren’t bad things, but I probably would have said “no” if I understood better.

One day, I went for a walk in our neighbourhood in Kilmarnock. I greeted a lady who was retrieving her bin (trash can) from the kerb. She said: “they say that it might snow this afternoon.” It was a warm, sunny spring day so I thought that maybe it was just small talk about the weather. I hadn’t yet experienced the fact that you can have four seasons in one day in Scotland; and to my surprise, it did snow later that afternoon.

Once I got home, a neighbour knocked on our door. He was an older man (probably in his 80’s). When we first moved in, he gave me some strict instructions on the importance of putting the correct colour of bin on the kerb only after 5pm for collection the next morning. It must be removed from the kerb as soon as possible after the rubbish (trash) is collected. He made me kind of nervous about getting it wrong.

I answered the door, and he said something that I did not understand at all. I had already brought in our bins so it couldn’t be that. “Yes” didn’t seem to work here, so I said: “can you believe that they are expecting snow this afternoon?” He got irritated and said: “well are you going to pick up your package or not?!” Apparently, a package came for us while I was away and he had signed for it and was wanting me to get it since it was pretty heavy. It turns out “yes” did fit here.

I think that I’m understanding more every day. The lockdown has limited the number of social interactions so it’s hard to know for sure. I think that I will have integrated if I use the word “aye” in a conversation without even thinking that it sounds odd coming from me.

The hamburglar at Glasgow Central

The pandemic, being on furlough, and now the racial injustice protests in the US wear me down sometimes. I thought that I would share a bit of frivolity to counter the “heaviness” of current events. The following events are true – nothing has been exaggerated.

I had a lot of time on my hands when we first moved to Kilmarnock from Amsterdam. I didn’t have a drivers license or a car so I couldn’t drive around to explore the sites. I hadn’t taken the train into Glasgow yet, so I thought that I would travel in for a quick lunch and back.

The trains that go from Kilmarnock to Glasgow Central must have been built in the 1960’s. It sounds like the conductor is putting the clutch in and out when it’s going and stopping. It’s really noisy and isn’t air conditioned. But, it was comfortable and almost empty. It’s only a 30 minute trip through some pretty countryside.

Glasgow Central is a decent train station. It isn’t as nice as the stations in the Netherlands, but it isn’t as busy either. There are some stores and fast food restaurants in the station. I decided to have lunch at the first restaurant I saw: Burger King. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a line and not a lot of people in the restaurant. I ordered my usual Whopper with cheese meal and found a place to sit. I forgot to stop and get a straw and some ketchup. I left my tray on the table and walked over to the condiment area and grabbed what I needed. I was only maybe 5 steps away from my table, but my back was turned so I couldn’t see it.

I came back. Sat down, and immediately felt like something was different. I only had fries and a drink – no Whopper with cheese. I had had a hard time understanding the cashier’s accent when I first did my order, so I thought that maybe she had said that she would bring my Whopper to me and I just hadn’t understood and hadn’t notice that it wasn’t on my tray. I can be a bit ditzy so it’s possible.

I went to the cashier area and asked them if they are bringing my Whopper to me. She said that she already gave it to me when I ordered. I said: “oh, I think someone took it.” She says: “that happens a lot here, let me make you another one and bring it out.”

I swung around and looked suspiciously at the customers sitting in the restaurant – especially the ones close to my table. No one looked up at me and no one seemed to be eating a Whopper at the moment. I kept looking at everyone as I returned to my seat. Then, I looked around at them some more. No one had a guilty look or even looked at me. They brought me another Whopper.

It reminded me of the 1980’s McDonald’s commercial featuring the hamburglar. He loves hamburgers so much that he steals them. The funny thing is that I would have given someone my Whopper meal if they had asked. I would prefer to do that than just give someone spare change. It might be part of the fun to take it and see my reaction when I discover it’s gone. They had to be quick and great actors. I’m assuming it was a coordinated effort. Maybe there’s a gang of hamburglars in Glasgow.

That was in 2017. My doctor made me go on a diet not long after that so haven’t had a Whopper since. Now I kind of want one.

Gayly forward – learning to drive in Scotland

I grew up in a farming community in South Dakota. You can start legally driving at 14. I’m 54 now, so I’ve had a lot of practice. I didn’t drive the 10 years I lived in Amsterdam, since a car and driving are more of a hassle there than a convenience. My US drivers license expired while I was there so I didn’t drive when I would visit my family in the US. In fact, I was worried that I didn’t know how to drive any more.

In Scotland, though, you really need to drive. There are some people who don’t – but, the public transport options are not as abundant as they are in Amsterdam or London. I applied for a provisional drivers license and hired an instructor. I though that I would breeze (or is it breese here?) through it.

I underestimated how difficult this would be. I had to get used to driving a car again, and driving a car with the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left side of the road. The U.K. test is pretty challenging. The written test is easy, but the driving test is pretty hard. I felt like a 14 year old.

You have to be able to demonstrate manoeuvres like parallel parking, backing around a corner (who does this?!) and backing into a parking spot. The examiner will also ask you to “show and tell” different features of the car. It can be as silly as “show me how the horn works” or as difficult as “show me how to check if the power steering is working”.

There are also a lot of challenges in terminology for an American. The pavement in the UK is the sidewalk (in the US it’s the street). I kept wondering why the rules are to not drive on the pavement. There’s the boot and the bonnet as opposed to the trunk and the hood.

My instructor was a pretty macho Scottish man but was pretty good humoured about training a gay American. He had a strong Scottish accent, but “stop”, “go” and “watch out” are pretty comprehensible. He would tell me to “go straight” and I would joke “I tried it and can’t do it.” From then on the instruction was to “go gayly forward”.

The roads in Scotland are so narrow – especially the country roads. To make it worse, there are hedgerows and ditches right on the side. It is always scary when someone comes from the other direction and there’s no room to pass. One day I was heading to work and there was a major traffic jam on the M77. My sat nav gave me an alternative route on a country road. I kept thinking that it couldn’t be correct since I really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I came to an area that had a sign that said “ford”. I wondered what that meant until I came to a part in the road where a river runs over the road. We had had a lot of rain and the river was pretty deep and running fast. It was basically like driving over the top of a waterfall. I was too chicken to do it. I have a Range Rover that has a special feature to raise the vehicle for fording but I didn’t want to try. So, I turned around and waited in the traffic. I might go try it another time.

There are roundabouts everywhere, especially in Ayrshire. They are helpful in some places, and some other places it seems like a waste of concrete (I want to say “pavement” here). It is really scary to drive on a roundabout when you aren’t used to them. Fortunately, there are some YouTube videos that I found really helpful. Basically, they are videos presenting you with a roundabout and you have decide if it’s safe to go.

After all of the lessons and practice, I failed the first time I took the driving test. Some lady decided to overtake me when I started off from a hill stop. It made it look like I cut her off. I was so nervous after that that I made other silly mistakes.

You have to wait for a certain period until you can retake the test. I did more lessons and took it again and passed.

Now, I’m going gayly forward every day (well to the store now during this lockdown and maybe to try fording).

Not the only gays in the village

I grew up in a rural town in South Dakota in the 70’s. My family was religious and needless to say, it was not a safe place to be gay. I didn’t actually come out of the closet until I was in my 20’s and living on my own in Utah. Utah is still very conservative and you had to be careful. I decided that I was no longer going to live in a place that discriminated against gay people. That was one of my primary reasons for wanting to move to Europe.

I was excited about moving to Europe because I knew that they were much more liberal and I could just be myself. There would be gay bars and “gayberhoods”, and I could be open at work without worrying about consequences. My perceptions were realised when I moved to Brussels and then even more so when I moved to Amsterdam. Gay marriage was finally allowed in most countries and I married my partner, Stewart, when I was living in Amsterdam.

I was a bit nervous about how gay friendly some of the smaller villages would be in Scotland when we decided to move here. I have travelled to over 70 countries, and I know that there are gay people everywhere. But, I have learned that it’s the general culture and attitude toward gay people that make all of the difference.

I googled “gay bar in Kilmarnock”. The query resulted in one result: Blacks Bar in Kilmarnock. We decided that we would check it out when we had the first opportunity. Well, it turns out that it is not a gay bar. In fact, it’s a bit of a rough place to go if you are not a regular there. But, there are plenty of fun gay bars in Glasgow. There are also some gay couples that live near us.

It is certainly not as open as it is in Amsterdam. But, I would characterise Scotland as gay-friendly. Any place where men wearing kilts must be.

This is a fun gay bar in Glasgow

Life in the furlough lane

I was really fortunate to start a great new job the start of this year. I knew about the virus then, but I didn’t foresee that it would impact me personally or professionally. Maybe none of us did. I have been made redundant before, but I’ve never been furloughed. In April, I began my furlough journey.

The U.K. has a temporary furlough scheme (now running through the end of October). It allows companies to furlough employees that can’t work because of the virus. Employees are paid 80% of their income up to £2500 per month. Companies issue the payments through normal payroll and are reimbursed by HMRC.

I’m happy that this program is available in case the alternative is to be laid off. Since I’ve immigrated to the UK, I may not be entitled to unemployment benefits. At least, that is what’s implied when you migrate since citizens are concerned about people that may be migrating in order to take advantage of benefits that may not be available in their home countries. I’ve never needed to receive unemployment benefits, and I hope that continues to be the case.

We just sold our Amsterdam home, and my partners contract with the Scottish government was extended through the end of the year. Hopefully, this will help me keep on top of the bills until things return to normal.

Financial circumstances is an obvious worry. But mental health is also a challenge. I’m normally a very optimistic and happy person. But, being furloughed feels very isolating. Fortunately, my manager reaches out to me each week to check in with me. I know it sounds desperate, but I look forward to that communication.

The isolation, uncertainty, and boredom seems to lead to depression. I won £140 from the lottery last week and was in queue at Asda to cash it in. My partner called to give me some good news about our plans to move from Kilmarnock to Carnwath (more on that later). Instead of feeling happy, I swelled up with tears.

I realised then that I was feeling depressed and that I needed to take care of my mental health during this crisis. I’ve re-dedicated myself to my diet and exercise goals. I decided to do some online training in topics I like. And, I decided to create this blog.

Biggest challenge: be happy during furlough

My First Blog Entry – First Blog Ever

I grew up in a small town (Brookings, South Dakota); once I escaped and moved to a large city (Salt Lake City), I swore that I would never live in a small town again. I pretty much kept to that promise until I moved to Kilmarnock, Scotland. I guess population-wise, it isn’t as small as Brookings, but it certainly is a lot smaller than Amsterdam.

We moved from Amsterdam to Kilmarnock in 2017. Even though the UK was still part of the EU at that time, I have to say that immigration-wise, it was an unnecessarily challenging move. I don’t believe the UK really warmed up to the idea of “freedom of movement”. It certainly was a lot easier moving from Belgium to the Netherlands.

I hired a UK immigration lawyer who advised us on the proper paperwork and procedures. The process was for us to travel together. We must bring documents proving that we were married and that my spouse (Stewart) is a British national. We also had to have proof that he had sufficient income to live in the UK (poor British nationals are not allowed to bring their non EU spouses to live and work in the UK apparently). Stewart had already set up a freelance company, had a contract with a Scottish Government entity, and had rented us a nice home in Kilmarnock.

You are limited to the number of pets that you can bring in at one time. I think that the limit is 5. We hired a company to handle the pet moving arrangements. Our 5 cats flew out the day prior and the 4 dogs were on the plane with us (although in the hold). It turns out that it is much easier to bring pets into the UK than to bring an American. They all had EU pet passports so that must make the difference.

Passport control gave us such a hard time. They said that we were supposed to apply for a visa for me before I left the US. It didn’t make sense at all; but you learn fast to never tell an immigration enforcement officer how to do their job. We waited for a long time and they finally put the stamp on our passport and let us into the country. That’s where my Scottish adventure begins.