I Want to be Sedated: Adventures in Getting my Act Together in Leicester

People, my mind is muddled like a big ball of muddled things all muddled together with a muddling pestle.

I’ve been trying to get my act together to write all of the posts that this particular point in time deserves. Of these, there are many.

Changes of all sorts are afoot. Interesting, strange, complex changes.

However, my brain remains foggy like the Shanghai Air Quality Index on a Crazy Bad Hazardous day, and what I am left with are fragments, phrases, disjointed thoughts and ideas, words that pop into my head at 3am and then vanish again. I could write three dozen haiku more successfully than one coherent, cohesive blog post of a reasonable length.


This is the stuff dreams are made of

This is the stuff dreams are made of


And so I go off and bake another loaf of experimental bread using the bag of chapati flour the size of a toddler that I found at Tesco last week (the flour, not the toddler). I’m getting really good at baking chapati flour bread with all sorts of nuts and bolts and twigs and seeds found in the strangely empty international aisles in the supermarket. It’s strangely cathartic and grounding and goes very well with all of the cheese that is now freely available.

Alternately, I delve into my irrational yet remarkably successful exploration of the use of massive amounts of winter vegetables in sweet, fruity cakes and quick breads. My roasted squash, yam and carrot cake with dried fruit and Christmas spices was a surprise hit the other day, as was my chocolate-orange and yam loaf this week. I’m concocting a parsnip cake next, modelled after the concept of a carrot cake, except with, well, obviously, a shit ton of grated parsnips, fresh from the wintery garden.

When I’m not baking or thinking about baking, I’m either trying to get my new life sorted out or trying (usually unsuccessfully) to sleep through the night.

No one told me that unborn spawn were so decidedly subcutaneously violent. Seriously, I swear I’m harbouring a squirming bag of weasels on amphetamines in there. Sometimes, if I’m resting my laptop on my bump, trying to read, a thwack from below will erupt so forcefully and suddenly that the computer will actually jump a few centimetres into the air. Sometimes I see an arm or an elbow or a knee poking out from under my rib cage and I half expect a mysterious fingertip to spell out threatening convex phrases from under my skin.

I had no idea.

It’s both impressive and unnerving.



A local pub for local people in the local village.


Anyway, we are now coming up to nearly a month in the UK, after suddenly receiving the spouse visa and hastily booking the flight before my 28 week cut off. We are still living with his family out in the lovely chocolate box village somewhere outside Leicester, amidst rolling green fields and grazing cattle and barking dogs. There are horses and foot paths and genteel villagers and a quiet village pub and a little village hall where the villagers go to play cards, and not much more. Days are quiet; nights are quiet. You can easily see the stars in the sky at night. All of them.

After nearly a month, in spite of filling my days with sleepiness and baking and assembling the occasional pot of reassuring Turkish soups, we’ve also managed to accomplish a number of things that need to be accomplished in order to actually live in a place as functioning adults.

I should note that for the past decade or so, I had not actually ever lived a settled life as an adult in a developed western country where I could fluently speak the language. Before that, I had misspent my 20s as an impoverished backpacker, skimming lightly over the surfaces of Europe and Africa, pausing only to sleep on floors, sofas, dorm beds, taking short term jobs, living out of a backpack, subsisting on baguettes and Boursin and chocolate and cheap beer for too many years. The first flat I ever rented was in the leafy, hilly neighbourhood of Erenkoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul in 2004, when I was 30. 30! I bought my first piece of furniture a year later. I sold it ten months later. The weighty burden of physical ownership freaked me out.

However, I’m a grown up now. Or at least, I married one so must pretend I’m one too.

Here are some things that grown ups tend to do when they move to a new city in a new country (in no particular order):

  • Get a bank account
  • Rent a flat, furnish it
  • Get a SIM card for mobile phone
  • Get set up for medical coverage
  • Get a job

Here is what I have been able to accomplish thus far:

1. The first thing I attempted to do when we arrived was to sort out the bank account so I could get a big chunk of money from my Canadian wired over, thus avoiding massive international fees for every transaction.

Trying to get a bank account in the UK when you’re not from here and don’t actually have any proof of existence on this particular chunk of earth: freaking hard, y’all. Until I get a mortgage or a utility bill or a pension or a tax rebate, I can’t even apply.

So that has been pushed aside for the time being.

2. However, the other thing I did shortly after we arrived was to get my mobile phone sorted out. Now, having been back in Canada for a season, I became accustomed to being resigned to having no mobile phone access because of expensive multi-year contracts glued to locked phones and ridiculous charges for minimal service. Canada is strangely cruel and Kafkaesque when it comes to modern communication devices. England, however, isn’t.

Back in July, when we landed at Heathrow, I bought a 3 Mobile SIM card from a vending machine for 20 quid. Forty bazillion hours of talk time, seventy kajillion free text messages and all you can eat data for 30 days. That card served me well over our summer visit here and I left it in my phone when we flew back to Vancouver in August, intending to replace it with a similar one from Canada. Insert Nelson Muntz laughter here.

Three months had passed after its purported expiry when I walked into a 3 Mobile shop in Leicester a few days after we arrived in November, asking if I could get a new one. Ah, said the sales clerk, no need if you still have your SIM. Just top it up now. And it will be 15 quid a month for everything, not 20. No strings attached, no contract, nowt.

Hooray for the deregulation of cell phone services!

3. Also, hooray for the NHS. Those of you who are cynical and British may scoff at me here, but damn it, it was so easy to get set up with a doctor and midwife and all the healthcare I can stand. Back in Canada, I had been told that I wasn’t able to access health care for 6 months after my return as I’d been away for too long and needed to earn my residency back.

This meant I had spent my second trimester measuring my own blood pressure in the free blood pressure test machines at London Drugs, charting my weight gain on my parents’ erratic bathroom scales, and having the baby’s heartbeat occasionally monitored in the back seat of a parked car belonging to a childhood friend who now happened to now be a midwife in Vancouver. It was all very DIY. Like the healthcare version of ’90s fan fiction Zines painstakingly photocopied and stapled by 15 year old girls in their parents’ basement in Nebraska.

Strangely enough, after quickly and easily registering with a surgery in a village nearby (without even having applied for a health care ID number), I was then asked by the receptionist, Oh, hey, did you happen to live in Pennard Mansions on the Goldhawk Road in Sherpherd’s Bush in London?

Er, yes. In 1997. Briefly. Long enough to register with a doctor opposite the Tube station, hoping to get my inhaler prescription renewed so I wouldn’t die from the gritty, damp London winter.

They had obviously kept every record ever made. Impressive.

Thus, 23 year old me was successfully administratively merged with current me and I was immediately granted full access to all things bright and beautiful under the NHS umbrella, even though I was barely a few days in the country.

4. Renting a flat without a job (but with substantial savings) is surprisingly hard here. We were used to the Shanghai version of real estate, where great stacks of cash trade hands and a few bits of mostly meaningless paper are signed but no actual background information is needed. Here, if you are unemployed (or more precisely, not yet employed as we bloody well just got here), you are either turned away by the agents outright (it happened) or you have to get a guarantor (which you pay for) and you pay all 6 months plus deposit up front. Also, you still need to have a formal background check done (which you also pay for).  On the plus side,  flats are clean and well maintained and you can get a lovely terrace house with a back garden in a great location for the price of a peeling, freezing, disintegrating tower flat in semi-central Shanghai.

Which is what we have managed to do (tentatively). Still need to finalize everything but it looks like we will have a fab new place before the new year. Details to come.



We get to have this park less than ten minutes away on foot. Green space!


5. That job thing. Right. I’ll sort that one out when I’m no longer 7 months pregnant. This, my friends, is why I worked 3 concurrent jobs for 4 years in Shanghai, saving my bodyweight in cash before completely burning myself out. It’s all about the bonbons and silken robes for the next few months.

Details to come.

Also, parsnip cake.

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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.