Living in the UK – Part 2

To follow-up on the previously posted Part 1, I’ve got a few extra things to add about living in this great country. In no specific order: the Aga, the movie theaters, the NHS and the weather (yes, I missed that one last time… how could I!). As previously, these are constructive comments or views from a surprised resident.

So, I’ve lived in the UK for over three years now… it has been really wonderful so far. People are really nice, and the weather is a lot better than what the rumor would like to have you believe. Yes, it rains from time to time, and the sky can be rather cloudy, but overall I have the impression that there is some beautiful sunshine every day. That must be the reason why british natives tell you that there was a beautiful weather yesterday… they simply omit to specify that the blue sky and warm sunshine lasted only 5 minutes :)

For the “few” days of bad weather, there are plenty of indoor activities to do, even if people tend to do their planned outdoor activities anyway. One of the options is to go to the theater to watch a movie. For someone who comes from a country where the price per person for a movie ticket was about CHF 16.- (about GBP 7) three years ago, I haven’t been shocked with a price tag of 6-7 pounds. But when in addition to that, you get 30-45 minutes of advertising after the scheduled start time for the movie, and there is someone selling ice-creams while the movie is still playing, I am starting to get somewhat annoyed! At least they don’t stop the movie 20 times to get you to buy pop-corn!

So if the weather is not that nice and you don’t want to go out to see a movie, what can you do? Well, I like cooking (when time permits) and when I found the place I have been living in for the last three years, there was an AGA like device in the kitchen… I since then have a separate electric oven to actually be able to cook. For those who are not familiar with it, you must be wondering what an Aga is? In the configuration at my place, it is a combined cooker, water heater and house heater, all in one nice looking big blue box in the middle of the kitchen. Sounds like a good idea, but here is the catch. If you want to make some pasta one nice summer evening, you need to start the long process of heating the Aga as well as the kitchen as the whole thing radiates heat throughout the room. As a side effect, the house is also warming up as the heating system is flowing through the Aga and, to add to the mix, new hot water is being added to the boiler, which is conveniently located in our bedroom. But then you start learning the trick of letting the hot water flow to accelerate the heating process. Logical and environmental-friendly, isn’t it? So what if you want to have a warm shower in the monring… heating the house (or at least the kitchen) is the secret to it.

This isn’t a big problem in the winter when the Aga is turned on 24/7, but during the summer, especially with the heat wave we had this year (over 36° Celsius in the UK in 2006), adding extra heat to the house on top of what was already coming from the outside isn’t my idea of fun! To quote the Monty Pythons: “And there was much rejoicing… Yeaaaah!”.

To close this blog entry about living in the UK, I need to add a little something about National Health Service (NHS). This is the government-managed healthcare system in the UK. Do I need to say anything more? OK, here are more details. About 12% of the salary of a UK tax payer is taken to finance the national healthcare system, and everyone in this country gets the same level of service. You also need to register with one generalist practitioner (shorten “GP” by everyone) when you first arrive in the UK. This specific GP then becomes your first point of contact with the system for everything. If you need to see a specialist, you first go to your GP. He/She enters something in a computer system so that somebody somewhere can schedule an appointment. And then you wait until they contact you (for emergencies, you are allowed to go straight to the hospital). In my case, it took a little over a month until I received a letter through the post with a date and time for an appointment… but this one was for over 2 months down the line!

And if you need to reschedule your appointment, my experience so far is that it moves it by at least a month. It gets even better… one day of early July, I receive a letter through the post telling me that my scheduled appointment for mid-August was unexpectedly cancelled and would be rescheduled for end of September!?! How can you unexpectedly cancel something over a month before it happens!?!

It might sound like I had a lot of medical troubles, but actually it was ONE routine check with a doctor beyond the responsibilities of my GP! You can still get private health-care, but you have to go through your NHS GP and be referred by him. This governement-owned and managed health care system is really impressive for a country where almost everything else has been privatized. Having experienced first hand the system, I can only agree with The Economist when they call for reforms :)

That’s it for Part 2 of my Living in the UK tales. This will certainly be the last entry about this subject on my blog for a few years… but that will be covered in another posting.