Dearest friends and family, we're emigrating to the USA.
Come September, that's it. We're off. Yes, we're going to live in a country whose supreme leader is a pseudonym for the word fart. We're probably aiming for North Carolina, but that's subject to change if my job offer falls through for some reason. Either way, we're going.
It's a pretty big change. I will speak as myself despite this being a joint decision between Cat and I. Why? You're probably thinking. I'll set out some of my thinking below. I'm not really sure who this post is for. Myself probably? A diary entry of sorts? I find writing cathartic.
For those that didn't know I am a US citizen via birth. I was born in New York in 1988 and apparently in the same hospital as Mariah Carey (maybe that's where I get my tits from). I left the US at a young age and arrived in the UK aged 3. To all intents and purposes, I'm British. I have British parents. British citizenship. British education. A British accent. Etc. British.
Perversely I'll miss the weather, understanding the unspoken social conventions, marmite, cadburys, curry, the perpetual light grumbling, proper queuing etiquette , over crowded everything (ok, maybe that's London talking) and being within driving distance of family. But I'll get to experience whole new versions of all the of the above (except family, obviously). And that's the point. People often ask me "why?!". My first, slightly flippant, answer is usually simply, "because I can" before proceeding to explain my citizenship situation. But there's more to it than that...
This particular topic, like none I have encountered before, engenders strong, visceral reactions from two sides who seem to be becoming ever more entrenched and disenfranchised with one another. Blame what you will - fake news and mass perception manipulation via social media (Cambridge Analytica), bad policy decisions of successive British governments, poor living conditions for many, “it’s not [the EU] what we signed up for" in the 70s or Boris Johnson - the result is a divided country. It's a divide that spans social status, class, race, gender and belief system.
I am of course talking about Brexit.
Saying that I think anyone who voted leave is a moron wouldn’t be that far from the truth. However, as with most brushes it’s not fair to tarnish all leave voters this way but some? Sure.
It's no wonder we can't have sensible debate around this polarising issue. One person's leave vote was not the same as another's. Same for remain. My remain vote was to be a part of something bigger, help increase the quality of life for those less fortunate, free movement of goods and people and for the simple fact I believed that the UK will be better off in the EU than out of it. Saying you voted leave or remain is too polarising. Too black and white. Too... Simple to describe such a fantastically complex set of issues. One person's brexit is not the same as yours.
The headlines around Brexit aren't exactly positive. Government departments are running around like headless chickens. Obviously they're being funded by the magic money tree to build new systems to cope with the demands Brexit will place on them. What about the Irish border? Bugger. A relapse of the Irish peace process would be an absolute travesty and cannot be allowed to happen. The open skies agreement? Gone. The transportation of radioactive isotopes? Ah, didn’t think about that! Did you know that cancer treatment requires radioactive materials and that requires transportation of nuclear waste?
There are opportunities to improve things with Brexit. Take the open skies agreement for example. There's an interview online with the head of the CAA who discusses archaic airline ownership rules that need to change. The same rules that would potentially see British Airways unallowed to fly the Atlantic once Brexit comes into effect, by the way. So Brexit isn't all bad if we can affect positive changes as a result but I have searched hard when writing this for good news. There isn't much.
More worryingly though is that I am increasingly feeling that I cannot trust my own opinion. Can you be sure that yours is your own either? Cambridge Analytica, Edward Snowden, social media and the mainstream press all had their parts to play in Brexit (and Trump). Propaganda is nothing new but the insidious way in which public perception has been manipulated en-masse is pretty amazing / scandalous. Besides the incredible technical achievements it's pretty great that we're able to find out about such egregious violations of trust, privacy and ethics thanks to the internet. If our only news source was the 'free press', despite the right to free speech of the press, there's no way we'd know about half of this stuff yet.
The internet has changed our lives in many ways. Facebook too. We're entering a new age of the internet where big corporations are now publicly demonstrating the stranglehold they have over it. Look at the net neutrality debate in the US right now. That one of my favourite podcast apps, Pocketcasts, just got bought out by NPR - podcast are a vital source of 'free and open' media for me. By that I mean not backed by large corporations, they are generally just dudes and a microphone talking about their opinions. It's up to me to make what I will of their various viewpoints. I highly recommend the show from Jupiter Broadcasting "Unfilter" if you want an example of the sorts of shows I'm talking about.
When big corporations get involved in any sector of our society it's often a race to the bottom. Analytics of media has pretty much ruined proper investigative journalism (Buzzfeed anyone?) as the time you spend scrolling, reading a paragraph, where you came from, where you went next can all be tracked and optimised. Clickbait is the result. "You just won't believe what happened next..." Ugh.
To be clear, I don't think public perception manipulation via Facebook is the only reason Brexit happened but in my eyes it was just powerful enough to destabilise many peoples thoughts and galvanise them behind a leave vote. Forget about busses and Boris Johnson, it was the drip feeding of opinion and private Facebook groups allowing people to spew hatred (on both sides) closed off from anyone who disagreed with them. If you ask me, this is how extremist views are born.
I also think it's a crying shame that so many of my fellow countrymen don't share the mentality that the EU is the world's most successful peace project. You could argue that it's been so effective that most of us have forgotten why it might even be needed. For better or worse, we live an increasingly global society where everything we buy is made somewhere else. Supply chains are monumentally complex and even something as "simple" as a train is made in half a dozen countries. We are not an Empire anymore and I've yet to see a positive headline about the state of trade / customs negotiatons.
I could go on and on about why I think leaving the EU is a bad idea. Economically, philosophically, morally. The short version is I'm voting with my feet. Those of you who voted leave are welcome to your inward looking, cold, rainy little island in the sea. I'm taking my tax contributions away from the country which paid for my education (kinda, if you exclude University fees anyway) and paid for my healthcare. If this wasn't a consequence you expected of voting leave, I hope that my actions send the strongest of signals to you. I really hope Brexit works out for you and lets you take back control (still don't understand of what exactly) and that you enjoy the extra £350m a week for the NHS.
On a more positive note...
I'm aware that Brexit is a toxic subject and my views on it are fairly clear, so let's move on.
If living in London for 2 years has done anything for my world perspective, above all else, it's made me value personal space. It's at such a premium, everywhere. Traffic, (lack of) car parking, shops are always super busy, parks whilst utterly fantastic in London are very busy on nice days, safe open spaces to fly my racing drones are non-existent till about Zone 4, etc. Some of these are things you might not immediately think of but are instantly noticeable when you step outside of that 'London bubble'. The last few months have seen me spending a lot of time in Southend and it's refreshing to walk into a lunch spot without queuing for 15 minutes. It's not that I don't like London, I've grown to actually be quite fond it (especially the City) which I did not expect, I just don't want to spend the next 10 years trying to achieve the unachievable (at least for my generation) such as a house - note house, not flat - in Dulwich or Clapham or something.
For arguments sake let's say we wanted a semi-detached 3-4 bed house for under £600k within (door to door) 45 mins of central London on a train it's nigh on impossible. We did find a house in Tonbridge a few months ago that nearly took our fancy but then we had that "where's this going?" type conversation with ourselves. The reality of starting a family in the London area, which is where the bulk of my work is located in IT, are that it's f&%king expensive. Similar costs to New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong but with worse weather! I wouldn't want to have attended a state school in London, some of the stories I've heard from the coal face are pretty grim to say the least. OK, a high cost of living, that's to be expected - London is one of the world's great cities after all. But it's not what I want from the next phase of life. Take North Carolina, for example. You can hardly compare London directly on any metric to any city in that state but from a pure cost of living vs quality of life perspective it will be vastly better for us. Assuming my earning potential is similar, which I expect it to be, we'll drop the cost of living by almost half. Ending up with a 3000+ sq ft, detached mansion on an acre+ plot within 30 mins drive of a downtown metro area.
I accept that federally provided healthcare is a mess in the States. State provided education too. I don't see either of these as insurmountable problems with enough cash and don't intend to rely on either. Public transportation is practically useless. Social inequalities are vast and getting worse. I'm not touting America as some perfect nirvana but the reality of the situation simply boils down to one simple statement.
I'd rather regret going, trying out a new life and failing than regret having never tried at all. Life is what happens whilst you're making plans and why not make one day today, if you can.
I'll miss England, it's been my home for my entire life as I can remember it. So many memories I could pick but I'll never forget that Broads holiday where I left the bait tin (full of maggots) slightly open. Just enough so that when the morning sun hit them, they escaped and started raining into the hatch above my parents bed. Or the times in the engine sheds at Ravenglass getting covered in coal dust. Or the times at Rock band at school thrashing away to Nirvana's In Bloom. Or the times on Genius training ordering entire Bodean's Boss Hog platters to myself. Or the times cycling around Devon (pic above from Croyde Bay in Devon). Or the times renovating THR. Or the time I nearly didn't go out in second year and ended up meeting my wife. So many happy memories.
It's just time to try something new. So long, and thanks for all the fish (at least for now).