Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ryding along ...

Spending most of my days in the Penarth and Cardiff libraries, trolling job sites and sending out resumes and applications -- primarily in the hospitality and media fields.

Ho hum.

Some days are more promising than others.

Tomorrow morning I have an interview with an international hotel for a position as a casual chambermaid. This could be a very interesting career change and I'm hoping it goes well.

Yesterday I had the followup for my eye 'casualty' surgery and all is 'looking good' so I'm pretty happy about that. Doctors just want to check it again in six weeks.

And as the sun breaks through the clouds, bonnie Prince Charles (Prince of Wales) is set to be in Cardiff tonight at Cardiff Castle and later Millennium Stadium for a gala concert for golf's Ryder Cup in nearby Newport.

Cardiff's own unforgettable Dame Shirley Bassey is set to perform as well as the amazing Ysgol Glanaethwy Choir

Friday, September 24, 2010

two weeks and two days

I've only been here two weeks but in many ways it seems much longer -- mainly because of the intensity of trying to get so many things going on so many different fronts, and of the relative newness and strangeness.

Yesterday was a good day for things coming to a settling point.

I received confirmation from the letting agent that my application to rent the one-bedroom flat has been approved! Yeah! Double yeah!! I will likely be signing the agreement next week and move-in date is mid-October.

Also, after repeated failures, I was finally able to log into my banking account in Canada from the library. I was afraid I'd have to do telephone banking -- which is OK -- but it's much nicer to be able to see things and move them online. The site kept hanging up on me, but I found an alternate way.

Also found the time to explore my phone plan a little more online. It's quite expensive (I think) to call locally and ridiculously cheap to call N. America. Strange but true!

Excellent news on the issue of the possible costs of my recent health crisis: after searching the National Health site yesterday it sounds as if the treatment I received will be covered!

I've begun the job-search process in earnest and found an excellent site for the hospitality industry and will be sending off resumes today for several positions -- everything from chambermaid to spa reservationist.

And, for some fun this weekend! A former Metro News co-worker from Toronto is in the U.K. on holiday and making a side trip to Cardiff and Liverpool. He will be in the city tomorrow and I will have the chance to show him around.

On Sunday, cheese and more cheese at The Great British Cheese Festival

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

flat hunting

Saturday I paid an estate agent £200 to hold a one-bedroom flat for me. Getting an apartment here is like buying a house. It seems to rarely be done directly with the landlord and involves a middleman known as an estate agent.

That £200 is non-refundable if they refuse my application and aren't happy with my credit check. Even after going to the trouble of getting an account set up over here before I came, and having savings deposited, I have no credit background in the U.K. and with the 'economic crunch'-- as one agent called it -- agents and landlords seem quite leery about getting stiffed for rent. Add to this the fact that though I have savings, I don't have a job yet.

Before I paid this fee the agency assured me, after doublechecking with the agent, that there would be no problem with them approving the application. The secretary said the application approval would likely take 2 to 3 days, so I will call them tomorrow for an update.

The flat (apartment) is very nice -- and a very good price for the market -- though still quite a bit more than I was originally hoping to pay. Last year when I was in Cardiff the estate boards had much more on offer and at lower prices. I asked one agent why there was such a shortage and he said most renters are staying put and renewing their leases rather than going through the initial (costly) process again. Also, because of the 'economic crunch,' the agent said there was a freeze on building, so no new places were coming on the market.

The flat I'm interested in is going for £450 a month. On top of the basic rent is a council (city) tax of about £70 and the cost of utilities, which people tell me will probably be no more than £50 a month. So a £450/month flat is really about £575 a month.

Besides the estate agent's fee there is a bond fee for any damages incurred during your stay (basic minimum contract is six months -- after which it goes month to month.) The bond fee is similar to our last month's rent, but is returned to you when you leave if they are happy with the flat's condition. The bond fee for my hoped-for flat is £500. So the initial outlay is close to triple the original rent.

Basically I will be paying montly rent close to the same outrageous price I paid in Toronto, but wages here are half. So far I am convinced I can make this work, even working part-time (with supplements from savings). There are jobs in the hospitality and care industries. I can definitely make it work six months, during which time I can look for somewhere else if need be.

The average one-bedroom is going for around £485/month and most are VERY small. The flat I've seen is charmingly laid out and has double-glazed windows, so the heat is more likely to stay in. I was just going to link to the flat online but see it has been removed -- which is a very good sign my application is going through.

It has been quite time-consuming looking for a flat. Once it is a done deal I can focus solely on finding work. The move-in date is mid-October and before I laid down the deposit I checked with the Harris' (who are lettting me use their guestroom) to see if this was OK with them. I had been hoping to move in some place by the first of the month.

Both Paul and Nicky have told me that they figured I would be at their place one to two months when they offered their lodging and that mid-October was fine. Their generousity is sincere and moving and I owe them for life.

eye casualty

I  thankfully have been blessed with good health for years, and continue to count myself very blessed after the last few days.

Late Monday afternoon I found myself having emergency laser eye surgery in the eye casualty outpatient clinic at the University of Wales. All appears to be well now -- thanks to the miracles of modern medicine and several guardian angels -- though the doctor informed me that if I had waited another two days my retina most likely would have become detached.

Late Saturday night I experienced strange flashes of light when I went to bed and at first thought it was some strange dancing reflection from outside. The next morning I awoke with multiple floaters in my left eye. There was no pain and my eye appeared fine from the outside. The floaters lessened as the day went on, but by Monday they had  returned and I vaguely knew that flashing lights were a symptom of something serious.

I found myself in front of an eyeglass shop in Penarth, where I am staying with my friends, and went in to find out if they did eye tests. The lady there said they didn't, but after hearing my symptoms, said I should be seen that day by someone. I went to an optician she recommended, about a block away, but they didn't seem too concerned and gave me an appointment for Wednesday.

After a quick trip to the library I realized the situation was serious and returned to the first lady to see if there was someone else in town with whom I could get an appointment. She called another optician who saw me immediately and who then set me up to go to the eye casualty clinic at the University of Wales hospital in Cardiff. This was shortly after 3 p.m. and they wanted me to be there -- clear across town -- by 4 p.m.

Nicky, my hostess, and whom I hope to call a friend, was able to pick me up and get me there with moments to spare. By 5:15 I had undergone a 10-minute laser treatment that 'welded' the retinal tear in my eye.

No pain, no eyepatch, no dark glasses, no restrictions whatsoever: a followup appointment next week and a warning that if I saw 'curtain' coming up on my eye to get in immediately.

I went in again yesterday as I was still experiencing some strange light (though static and not flashing). Another doctor checked me out, said everything was healing well, and that what I was seeing was the location of the original tear.

Yesterday morning I went and thanked the guardian angels in Penarth who came to my aid so easily and quickly.

Not sure what this is going to cost me monetarily. I've landed in the grey zone: haven't applied to register with a doctor yet (was waiting for a permanent address) and haven't begun working, so I am fairly certain I'm not covered. I had to pay £20 for the original eye test; no mention of coverage or billing from the hospital yet and I'm not going to ask. I may get something after the followup test, or in the mail.

The doctors here don't call themselves 'Dr.' and don't wear lab coats. Rather disconcerting. The opthalamogist who 'welded' my eye goes by 'Mr.' Gareth Lewis.

Nicky says if they called themselves Dr. or wore lab coats here, people would think it was pretentious. Perhaps, but I find the lab coats and title rather comforting. But thank God for Mr. Lewis' skill with a laser.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

confusion on the left

It is amazing how relatively simple things can send your cozy world into chaos.

From cars that drive on the other side of the road (making a half-awake pedestrian crossing hazardous to one's health) to making change with unfamiliar coinage (especially without my eyeglasses) -- adjusting to life in the U.K. is, well, an adjustment.

The oven in the kitchen of my hosts is on an unfathomable system. In fact, I can't even find it on wikipedia at the moment. Most of their appliances need to be turned on twice -- once at the electrical source -- then again (actually a good idea -- though I had forgotten and momentarily thought I lost the usage of the top of the stove.)

Besides the drivers, pedestrians and cyclists use the opposite side on walkways and paths -- and even the escalators are reversed.

Tonight I'm attempting the washing machine as my hosts have wisely gone on a week's holiday.

Not quite as perplexing as Alice's journey through the looking glass. Gradually, I suppose, the 'curious' and 'curiouser' will become the familiar. Or will the familiar become 'curious' and 'curiouser'?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

rainy days

It was bound to happen. After all I'm in the U.K.

After three sunny visits to Wales in the last three Septembers, the grey rain has begun.

I haven't been taking any new photos -- have job and place-to-live concerns taking priority -- but there are good shots of Cardiff from my original blog. Please check here:

I've tried to import them, but the blogger tool only seems to import text. More on Wales at these posts:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hi ya!

I am midway into my fifth day in Cardiff, Wales -- or as the Welsh say: Caerdydd, Cymru.

The idea to move here began four years ago with a press junket to the U.K. during which I fell in love with this country.

Now I'm down to the nitty-gritty of finding accommodations and a job (or jobs) in a tight market.

I have been blessed to have the very gracious hospitality of the Harris' -- Paul, Nicky and Cari -- who have offered me a guest room in their house in nearby Penarth as I get settled. I cannot deny that amid all the excitement and newness I have fleeting episodes of panic.

But mostly, I am feeling optimistic and grateful.

Since my arrival, I have steadily been greeted by people in cafes and shops with 'Hi ya! Are you alright?'

The latter question has made me wonder if I am looking shellshocked or in need of urgent care, as everyone seems genuinely concerned with my condition.

Only this morning have I realized that this seems to be a common usage, similar to our 'how are you?'.

I am good, thanks, but have never been quite sure if I'm 'alright'.