Why, Hello Leicestershire: Notes on Suddenly Moving to Middle England

People, I have moved to England.



Look, England!


The seemingly interminable spouse visa application process suddenly terminated and within a week of getting our surprise approval we were safely ensconced in a ridiculously genteel, chocolate-box village just outside of Leicester. That’s the one pronounced Lester. The standard phonemic alphabet doesn’t necessarily apply here. There’s a street in the city centre called Belvoir, which is adamantly pronounced Beaver. This is almost gaelic in its refusal to adhere to basic pronunciation guidelines.

In a way, this pleases me. I had feared that by moving somewhere I had a) lived before (1997-1999, my tawdry London years), and b) fluently spoke the language (for the most part- see: belvoir/beaver), I would feel underwhelmed, perhaps bored. After all, I’ve barely spent any time in countries where I could comfortably converse at an even passably fluent level since my mid-20s and that was a long, long, long time ago.

Leicester, however, shouldn’t prove to be a problem in that department.

The local accent has been known to omit most syllables and a significant number of consonants, which makes casual chit chat quite exciting.  Yesterday, in a Pret a Manger in the city centre, I ordered a hot chocolate and couldn’t understand half of what the girl behind the counter was asking me even though it was definitely English. It was like being back in, say, Morocco, except I couldn’t even fall back on my French or rudimentary Arabic for clarification. I smiled and nodded and everything was like it had been for the past few decades: slightly baffling, excitingly puzzling. I knew more or less what was being said, but it took effort. I hear that such mental exercises delay the onset of Alzheimers in old age.

As well, the notably high immigrant population guarantees a nice proportion of incomprehensible (yet rhythmically familiar) conversations in cafes and markets and whatnot. It’s strangely comforting in an odd kind of way.



It’s not just tea and crumpets here.


So that’s all good.

And really, the fact that we’re even here is a massive relief, as we had been busy composing Plans B, C and possibly D for the past several months back in Canada while we were waiting out in the woods for the visa results. No need to hastily figure out residence visa regulations for Mexico, Spain, Thailand or Bali. No need to research private maternity care in those aforementioned locales. No need to quickly learn Spanish beyond my current elementary level (how do you say, ‘Holy crap, I’m going into labour’ in Catalan?). No need to fret about nearing the 28-week pregnancy cut off for a lot of airlines (hello week 29- I barely scraped in!).

Nope, no need to do anything except to get from the west coast of Canada to the midlands of England via bus, ferry, bus, flight, train, train and car over the course of a rather intense 24 hour period. For the past ten days since we arrived, we’ve been gently nestled in the aforementioned chocolate box village, warmed by hot tea and filled with roasted dinners, and sheltered by the familiarity of his family home from the shock of moving to yet another country with just two pieces of luggage, no job and no home of our own.

People, in spite of being 7 months pregnant, unemployed, slightly rudderless and uncertain as to what the next year will bring (or where we’ll end up living, once the job dust has settled), I’m strangely optimistic and surprisingly excited.


Well, here are some things to look forward to in the next few weeks:


  • Christmas decorations and Christmas lights in public spaces! In addition to the summer’s ramadan street decor and November’s Diwali sparkles, Leicester is starting to put up an equally impressive array of lights and pretty decorated trees for Christmas in the city centre. Marks and Spencer has ALL the Christmas puddings, cakes, chocolates and trimmings out on display, all decked out in shiny tinsel’d fabulosity. I may be a total heathen but I love pretty things. It’s been a really long time since I’ve been in a place where seasonal decor wasn’t just there for the expat population.


  • Indian everything! Leicester is quite possibly the capital of all things sub-continental in this country, with the Melton Road area being chockablock with sari and shalwar shops, Indian sweet shops, food shops, tailors, restaurants and jewellers for all your shiny, spicy, thrilling needs. In the city centre, there’s a proper open air food market with all sorts of gorgeous fresh fruits and veggies from everywhere at unscary prices, surrounded by lots of little food shops catering to the tastes of the Chinese, West Indian, West African and Polish populace. The local Tesco’s near us (in the relatively white, English outskirts) has three long aisles devoted to international groceries, right down to 10kg bags of powdered cassava and dried fish and channa flour.  The Indian spice mix area takes up more space than my old kitchen in Shanghai. This, people, is FAB.



I have a feeling I’ll be dusting off my dormant food blog soon…


  • The skies are blue. The air is fresh. There are fields and fields and fields everywhere. We can go walking down pretty country lanes, with hedgerows and stoney bridges and little streams and all. I think I might actually be healthy.

It may not be as wild an adventure as I’ve flung myself into in the past, nor is it the great Mexican road trip that we’d planned for this season before our plans had to be flung out the window, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, Kevin the Panda made it (he squashed down small in my backpack)!


Kevin and his Authentic TCM Health Hammer

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog’s title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.