Getting my UK Driver’s License

Here are some deets on the process of getting my license in the UK so you’re not into the nitty gritty, or aren’t planning on moving to the UK anytime soon (totally understandable) feel free to skim this post. But if you’re a curious cat, by all means dig in (meow)

I (Rachel) passed my driving test last month and am pretty pumped about it! I just received my drivers license in the mail am considering framing it ūüôā I would if my picture wasn’t the required level of terrible for such things.

Here is a not bad picture of me immediately after passing my driving test

Andrew passed his test back in March after having to reschedule due to a freak snow storm (link). Our US licenses allowed us to drive in the UK for 12 months, requiring us to get UK licenses after March of this year. We both drove our rental car without incident since we arrived in March 2017.

Some friends and acquaintances have seemed surprised that I drive in the UK as many of the expat wives refuse to drive (not sure if it’s fear or disinterest) but I never gave it a second thought. It may be something in my nature:

  1.  I don’t think of myself as particularity adventurous but that’s probably part of it and
  2.  growing up in Montana public transportation is not an option so I equate the ability to drive with the essence of freedom of moment and just freedom in general. ‘MERICA

Full disclosure: even though I’m a confident and arguably good driver it was stressful to drive in the UK initially as it required me to reprogram my brain! Andrew, who had been driving in the UK frequently during 2016, was a good coach and gave me a few tips that helped put my mind at ease.  So when March came to a close it was time to get back in the saddle…

The Theory Exam

Actually, back in the office chair: the practical exam can only be registered for once you pass your theory exam. I spent about 6-8 hours studying the material as I wanted to be sure to pass the first time. Luckily “there is an app for that” which prepared me well for the exam.

The test includes videos where the test taker is required to click on the screen when a hazard emerges. There is a five second gap during which you can click and the test taker is assigned points based on how early the hazard is identified. This part of the test was a bit crazy making for me as I never felt sure if something on the screen (car, pedestrian, cyclist) was considered a hazard or just a normal part of traffic. A car starting to pull out of a driveway may not initially be a hazard, but if they proceed to pull out in front of you, they are a hazard. But at what point is the determination made when the car changes from not a hazard to a hazard?  If you click too much you fail that section of the test. “Click the screen! but not too much! click now! no, now! not now! you clicked too much! don’t click on the cat!” Ahhh!

Driving Lessons

After I passed the written theory exam I began driving lessons. I spent about 2 months taking 1 lesson per week. The average is for students to take about 10 lessons so I’m perfectly average ūüôā Luckily I had a very good and chill driving instructor who Andrew and his co-worker, Robb, both recommended.

Here are main things I worked on:

  • Roundabouts and lane discipline: I needed clarity on the correct way to enter and exit roundabouts. I felt challenged when there were multiple lanes on large roundabouts or when the lanes weren’t marked on small roundabouts. I also had to learn lane discipline to stay in my lane and not drift into someone else’s lane when rounding the roundabout. I now feel very confident in my driving and realize that part of what made me crazy was that other drivers frequently illegally change lanes or illegally pull into my lane when they selected the wrong lane initially. The shame! I got a big kick out of having people illegally pull into my lane during a driving lesson and witness my driving instructor roll down his window to give two drivers a good talking to at the next stop light.
  • Speed Limits: I learned that unless marked the speed limit is 30 in built up areas/areas with streetlights (unless otherwise marked), 60 on one lane highways and 70 on two lane highways. Because there are lots of speed cameras in the UK and I come across a handful when driving around Poole, it was frustrating to not have clarity on if I was going to be in danger of received a nice ¬£100 ticket in the mail. Thank you, Big Brother.
  • Parallel parking in a right hand drive vehicle: Seattle has made me into a parallel parking master (thank you back up camera), but parking with a right hand drive takes some practice. Luckily my instructor was really great about teaching me tricks on this.
  • General good driving habits: A biggie was forming a habit of push pull steering instead of using a hand-over-hand motion. Also ensuring that I use the “mirror, signal, maneuver” instead of signaling, then checking my mirrors. I’ve also learned to check my mirrors and blind spots more frequently for bikes and other hazards.

The Practical Exam 

The actual test was 40 minutes and included

  • 1 Maneuver: out of 4 possible options of reverse bay parking, parallel parking, forward bay parking and parking on the right side of the street. I had to reverse bay park although I extremely well prepared to demonstrate my parallel parking skills.
  • 1 Emergency Stop: requiring the driver to lock up the brakes-  I thought to myself “I’ve done this a hundred times. It’s called NOT hitting a deer on the highway”
  • Sat Nav: Following the GPS instructions for 20 minutes. This is a relatively new addition to the test and was the easiest part of the test as far as I was concerned. If you made a mistake and took a wrong turn it didn’t count against your score as long as you didn’t do anything unsafe.
  • Pulling Over: there were several points where the instructor had me  “pull over on the left side of the road when it is safe to do so” and safely merge back into traffic. I I found this to be the most annoying part of the test as it was necessary to pull over in awkward places I never would have chosen in real life.
  • Following verbal directions from the instructor
  • “Show me” and “Tell me” questions: examples include show me how to use your rear windscreen wiper, show me how to turn on the defrost, tell me how to check that your brake lights are working, tell me how to check your oil

In the weeks leading up to my test I learned that a maneuver could be attempted more than once. This made me feel like the test could be easily passed. But then I learned that doing the maneuvers correctly was not sufficient: every action must be done “in a safe manner”. This means always checking your blind spots and swiveling your head round and round like an owl to make “adequate” observations of emerging hazards. So not only do you need to execute maneuvers and drive around, you need to ensure you are always swiveling your head, which sounds easy but took practice for me to do consistently. For example, I was able to perfectly parallel park, but if I wasn’t checking my mirrors and blind spots while doing so, I would fail the test. :/

My instructor was very good at helping me to become more observant and swivel my head like a doll. There are lots of videos online with info about the test that helped me prepare but ultimately the test came down to staying calm and confident, but not too calm to the point of complacency. I had a lesson right before my test where I remember telling myself silently “don’t freak out” as I had drove over a curb and was getting too in my head about the test.

The Big Day

On test day I was pretty calm. I passed my mock exam and felt confident I could pass. Things went well with the exception of when I had to pass a cyclist: my confidence wained momentarily when I had to navigate oncoming traffic and the cyclist. I completely support sharing the road and love to ride my bike but this emergent situation was not something I had extensively practiced like every other aspect of the test. This is not something I would normally stress about but having the instructor evaluating me made me doubt myself. Skinny roads + cyclists + oncoming traffic = ūüôĀ

In the end I passed with only one mistake! (You are allowed up to 15) My instructor was pretty sinking happy too and gave me a great big hug! It was such a relief to pass!

Final Thoughts

I remember my driving test at 15 being super easy and kind of a joke compared to the work that went into ensuring I passed in the UK. My high school offered driver’s ed and had a minimal cost compared to the hundreds of ¬£s paid for the tests and driving lessons: the grand total was in excess of ¬£500.

While I dreaded the lessons and the tests were stressful I’m glad I polished up my driving and learned how to navigate roundabouts with confidence.  I wish I would have taken a few lessons when I first moved here to clear up confusion, especially about the dreaded roundabouts. Being informed has made me more confident and the process taught me  good skills that I can practice in the UK and the US. And now I even know how to flip someone off in the UK! (It’s with 2 fingers!) (Not that I’m ever going to do that…hehe)

So glad to have that crossed off my list! Rachel’s Taxi Rides at your Service!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKc3CRHlJEM

Bonus

Here’s what my license looks like. Do you like my blonde hair? My license is good for 10 years although technically I’m supposed to relinquish it when I am no longer a resident but I’m definitely keeping it for my scrapbook! I earned it!

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The End of An Era

When I moved to Seattle in 2012, Andrew and I were not yet engaged and I struggled to find my place in the Emerald City.¬† A group of women living next door to Andrew’s Green Lake bachelor pad reached out to me and became fast friends. Out of that group a women’s bible study was born. This bible study later morphed into a book group held at a house in Queen Anne inhabited by some of those same women. This group of women became one of the most important communities of my Seattle life. Once a week we gathered for prayer, fellowship, laughter, tears and some zaniness. Sometimes we would even discuss a book. The group was a constant in my life. A safe place where honesty was always welcomed.

A few months ago the rent on their Queen Anne house was raised to an untenable level necessitating the relocation of said friends. While this is bitter, there is also sweetness, as one friend is moving out of state to pursue a dream and another just got engaged. These are happy things, and yet, I struggle: The band is breaking up (on good terms) and I am mourning the loss of a community hub.

The houses inhabited by these women were the location for general hang-outs, celebrations, movie binges, house parties, low-key and fancy dinners, and general merry making. The number of friendships and romances that were born and tended in these houses is a credit to my friends. I want to emulate the way they prioritized community and hospitality. In these houses our community had a place to land and was always welcome. What will I come back to? Will there be a house where we all gather? Do I have a part to play?

While I couldn’t have verbalized this a year ago, I realize now I had the idea that I would return to a Seattle¬†untouched by time. Like Sleeping Beauty, I believed that I could enter a state of altered reality and¬† the world would do the same, waiting for me. The reality is that friends are buying houses, getting engaged, married and having kids. A golden era may be ending.

Lately, I’ve really come to embrace what I call the “greyness of life” in which two, seemingly opposite things are true simultaneously. I can be wonderfully happy in my present circumstance, while also being sad that something beautiful is ending, changing and shifting. “How am I?” “I’m happy AND I’m sad.”

In my brain, I know that something new and equally delightful may come into my life or a new iteration of that community life may emerge. But right now, in my heart, I’m sad. I am surprised and sad to realize that something I thought of as a constant will no longer look the same when I return. It makes me feel a little naive and a bit vulnerable to admit.. But that’s where I am. And I’m going to sit with my sadness for a while.

Life changes and people move on, but I’m not quite ready to do that yet. ~

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Home, Home on the Quay

Looking for an apartment for the next 8 months proved challenging. We had specific parameters that were at odds with the market:

  • Pets: Very few rentals allow pets: I’ve asked around a bit and it seems that people either keep their pets against their landlord’s wishes or they buy a home.¬†Because there are so few apartments that allow pets you have to be the first caller to secure a viewing in order to even have a chance of getting the apartment.
  • Student Apartments: Quite a few of the rentals are “student lets” i.e.¬†leases run the length of the school year. I’ve even seen a few clever promotions that offer students a pass to a nightclub when they sign the lease. The rules are different for student lets as you have to register with the local government and obtain a special license.1
  • Furnished: It’s common to find furnished apartments which I rarely came across when looking for apartments in the states.
  • Holiday Lets: Because Bournemouth and Poole are hot destinations for Brits in the summer months, some desirable apartments are short term lets to maximize profit during the warmer months.

Even with all these limitations we found an absolutely gorgeous house in Bournemouth that had everything we wanted: three bedrooms, a “garden” aka yard for the dog, and it was furnished to boot. It was recently remodeled by a contractor and interior decorator husband and wife team. It was a dreamy house with a high ceiling in the kitchen and lots of natural light. But there was one big catch: we could only negotiate for a 7 months lease and we would have had to move at the end of November on our own dime. We considered it but¬†ultimately decided that the expense and inconvenience of moving in the winter couldn’t justify the benefit of living in such an enchanting space. I was stuck on living in this seemingly absolutely perfect house but I knew that it just didn’t make sense. And I was afraid that we wouldn’t find anything nearly as nice that allowed pets. The heart wants what it wants, but the head knows best.

So we kept searching.¬†We toured a house that was amazing! right on the water in Bournemouth. But the house felt more like a weekend getaway than a home: it was somewhat neglected. I could tell the little things would have gotten old and wouldn’t have felt like home longterm. We contemplated a small three floor apartment that ultimately felt too small for more than one person. And we fell in love with a posh house in Christchurch that had the most amazing bathroom with LEDs lining the tub and a huge secret-garden-style yard. But none of them were just right. So we went back to the internets. Oh, the agencies we called and called! But struggle we did, for the perfect combo we could not find.

Now at this point my heart was still hurting that we had to let go of the beautiful house in Bournemouth, and we were getting discouraged and stressed about finding a place to call our own. We were tired of living in our small furnished apartment and were ready settle in for the year. So I said my prayers and asked for provision, not thinking that any place could compare to the Bournemouth house. Then after a night spent anxiously hunched over our laptops feverishly scouring listings, Andrew found a newly listed prospect and called to book a viewing.

So we waited ’til our appointed day and toured the apartment. And it was everything we were looking for!¬†We signed the paperwork following the viewing. We were both so relieved to find a place to live. And I felt at peace.

 

 

Now we are moved in and while our apartment did not at first seem as dreamy as the Bournemouth house, I know we are in the right place and my heart is at peace (and I also really love our apartment). You see, I set my heart on living in Bournemouth because it is quite hip and has lots¬†going on, but in the end our Poole apartment ended up being a better choice than the house in Bournemouth (even if the lease length hadn’t been an issue). If we had ended up in Bournemouth, I think I would have felt very isolated: Our Poole apartment has a stunning view as we are right on the quay. We very close to the high street, grocery store, and the mall. I can walk to coffee shops, the pool, the library and the gym. We live right by a huge park where Ezra dog can play and frolick.

So yet again, God knew best and provided something that would be for my good, even better than what I had set my mind on. And I feel like He even said, ‘ see, I am watching out for you and really do have the best things in store’ because we moved from the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle to Ballard Road in Poole: I don’t believe in coincidence, but I do believe in providence. Thanks be to God. We are grateful.


  1. “If the property has three or more storeys, five or more unrelated people living there, or there are two or more households living there, you will need to register your HMO with the council and secure a license”¬†http://www.independent.co.uk/property/house-and-home/property/if-you-want-to-let-to-students-then-do-your-homework-9101637.html 

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We’re Moving to the UK for a year!

In just ten short days, Rachel, Ezra (our cocker spaniel), and I will board a plane with a one-way ticket to the UK.

If that sounds dramatic, well… it is! Life was chaotic in 2016 and there’s lot of chaos happening now as we prepare to move!

I ended up spending almost 180 days abroad last year for work (most of that in the UK) on a challenging three-weeks-in-the-UK, one-week-in-Seattle rotation. We ended¬†up tapping out of that in November because it wasn’t working for us to do life in two different places; I was also physically and mentally exhausted from all the flying (100k+ miles flown). The plan for 2017 was to reduce my work travel to two weeks trips every 6-8 weeks but in December I was offered the opportunity move to the UK for 10-12 months in my current role!

While we were excited about the prospect, there were a lot of emotional and logistical things to think through, so we took time over over Christmas break to process everything. In mid-January we officially accepted the offer!

So, what’s on our to do list? It includes getting life squared away for the next year, tidying up some logistics, and packing…lots of packing.

  • Visas: I received mine at the end of last year in anticipation of my continued travel to the UK. Rachel received her visa last week
  • Ezra’s Paperwork: Ezra needs to get a vet checkup, and his paperwork has to be signed-off by the USDA Veterinary Services Office in Tumwater, WA. ¬†The catch is that the paperwork has to be completed in a window of¬†24 hours prior to departure, but¬†no more than five days before.
  • Stuff we are taking: Sorting and packing everything we need to take with us. We are allotted 750 lbs to ship via air, plus a total of seven suitcases. We’ll be in a furnished apartment, but we don’t know which one yet.
  • Appliances and Electronics we’re taking: There’s the issue of the electrical grid being different (120V/60Hz vs 230V/50Hz). Many consumer electronic devices are actually capable of working both the US and UK, thanks to switching-mode power supplies, so we just need socket converters. However, appliances that have large motors or heating elements usually aren’t capable.

FAQ

  • How long is Ezra in quarantine? There isn’t one anymore! It takes a couple hours to clear his paperwork and then he’s released!
  • Where are you going to be? Bournemouth, a wonderful sea-side resort town about two hours southwest of London.
  • Can I come visit? Yes, absolutely! We’d love to have visitors!
  • How long are you gone? 10-12 months.
  • When are you leaving? We fly away on Thursday, March 9th.
  • If I want to send you a postcard, where do I send it?¬†Email us at both@AndrewAndRachel.com for our forwarding address

The countdown is on! We leave 131 weeks, 6 days ago.

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Cookie Jam

Me: “Playing Candy Crush?”
Wife: “It’s not Candy Crush; it’s Cookie Jam!”
Me: “Take a moment to think about what you’re saying”

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