Back in September 2019, we did a hot seat interview with Mark Newman. The interview got a lot of interest because stories of long-term expat teachers deciding to jack it all in and start a new chapter back in their homeland always get a lot of interest. Well, seven months have passed since Mark returned to the UK. It's time for a follow up.
Hi Mark, great to talk to you again. Before we begin and if they haven't already done so, I strongly urge readers to check out your hot seat interview from September 2019 as you were preparing to leave Thailand in the November. The seven months since you've been back have flown by but I'm going to start with a general question - was settling back in the UK easier or more difficult than you anticipated?
Easier, much easier - and most of the work and preparation can be done online these days, too. I was well ahead before I even landed at Heathrow Airport. I had a car bought, taxed and insured online, a job interview lined up for the day after I landed, I got back on the electoral roll and organized interviews with a bank manager and a potential landlord all before I got on the plane. If you’re organized and have some savings, the process of re-assimilation back home is very easy, which surprised me as I had been away since 1987!
I have the benefit of following you on Facebook, so at this stage, I know a lot more about your life than the readers do. Tell us a bit about your living accommodation (location, size, costs, etc) It really looked like you landed on your feet with that place. I mean look at that for a view from your front window!
Yes, you could say that I landed on my feet. The day after I got back to the Isle of Wight I had signed a lease for a small flat overlooking the sea in Totland bay. It’s very modern but very small! It’s rather like living in a very large, luxury camper-van! But that may be because it’s too easy to compare it to the house I built in Thailand, which was quite big for one person.
But I’m very happy with the place and no space has been wasted. With the use of hooks and small bits of furniture, it’s worked out well. The view and large patio don’t hurt, but the added bonus of peace and quiet is the biggest benefit. It’s a great little bolthole and I’ll most likely be here for years.
After finding a place to hang your hat, there then came the job search of course. It sounded like you weren't short of offers but you opted for a position at a family restaurant / camping site? Tell us about your duties, working hours and the pay rates, etc.
Again, I had a job interview lined up and within two days I showed up and was hired on the spot. It was a vacancy for a pot washer/kitchen porter. The hours were up to me meaning that if I was good, then the hours would increase, which is exactly what happened.
But the job was more physically demanding than I thought it would be so I left after a few months and took another job about 100 yards from where I live. This proved to be a lot easier on my poor old body, plus I no longer needed to commute. I just walked along the seafront to next door and put on my apron!
Did you consider that job as a long-term prospect or purely an opportunity to get yourself back on the employment ladder?
It depended. If I had liked the job more and it had been less physical, I would have stayed forever. As it is, my new job fits the bill a lot better. I just do a few hours a week, enough to pay my bills and the place is very friendly and informal. Save money in the summer and have about eight months off or do the bare minimum for the rest of the year.
It’s important to point out that at almost 60 years of age, I’m not ambitious and I don’t want any responsibility anymore. That’s all behind me now. I imagine younger people reading this must think I’m insane to trade what I had in Thailand for what I have now!
In the last hot seat interview, when you talked about the school you taught at for many years, you commented on how you never socialized or got close to your teaching colleagues. Did you carry that attitude into your UK job? What kind of people were you working with?
Yes, that has carried through. I’m friendly and polite with everyone I work with and of course workplace friendships develop, but I have no desire to meet up for a pint after work or go bowling with any of them. Nobody that I have met in the UK in the last seven months has been added to my Facebook friends list. I really like to be left alone and get on with all the things I like to do on my own when I’m not at work. I’m the archetypal Billy No Mates!
When I did the figures in my head, your apartment rent takes a huge chunk out of your end-of-month salary. But you still have enough to live on?
Yes my rent is £495 and that’s about average for a nice flat on the Isle of Wight, I think. The bills are pretty cheap but I did have to sign up with BT for the internet and they did have to come down to the seafront and install a landline from bloody miles away!
I’d guess that I need about £600 a month to get by at a bare minimum. During the summer months and school holidays I can make that in tips alone! But the summer is only a few months so you have to make hay while the sun shines. I eat where I work as well, which helps a lot.
You had been away from the UK for many years. What living costs have surprised you, in terms of either cheap or expensive?
I’m not sure about ‘surprises’ per se. Things are very cheap in the UK and the abundance of choice makes shopping for anything a real pleasure. So I wouldn’t say that the prices of things came as a surprise, but there were a lot of shopping-related surprises. Do you want to hear about them?
Booze is on sale in every aisle. It’s next to the bread, opposite the tampons, it’s everywhere you look. I’m amazed at just how ‘normalized’ the British are to boozing. I expect young people to be party animals, but in my experience of moving back, the booze problem is an 'everybody' problem now!
The service in British shops is just terrible. It’s not rude or unfriendly but it’s geared to be indifferent and unhelpful and staff are not knowledgeable about where they work.
Manufactured food tastes like sugary glue. It’s just appalling. After 20 years of eating freshly cooked food every day, the shock to my system has been like switching from a freshwater tank to a saltwater one! There’s lots of junk I enjoy, though but if you want the good stuff, it’s gonna cost you!
Television is just awful. I don’t even have any channels where I live and I don’t miss it either. The mass of gambling adverts is disconcerting too, plus the fact that TV is treating everyone like a seven-year-old child. It’s truly a disgrace. If there's something I'm interested in watching, I'll download it.
Most days on your Facebook page, you post photos of the wonderful scenery that accompanies you on your daily walks (and the Isle of Wight is such a gorgeous part of the world). You never ever struck me as a particularly 'outdoorsy' person, but you seem to have really embraced that part of life?
Yes, a part of this new walking addiction is that if I didn’t do it, I’d turn into a huge blob! The rest is more psychological. The Isle of Wight is my home again, and like all animals I’m examining the territory. It may be a bit mundane to some, but for me, every walk is an adventure. I’m loving the awesome Island.
Being ‘outdoorsy’ in Thailand is just impossible because of the relentless and oppressive climate most of the time so I’m enjoying the change. As soon as it opens (hopefully soon) I’m going to join the Totland Bowls Club. I’ve never done it before so that’s going to be brilliant fun.
Brilliant! I can just imagine you wearing a white cap, powder blue slacks and smoking a pipe. Now a lot of folks might say the coronavirus lock-down has come at a bad time in your life - but you're clearly loving it?
Blimey, this lock down could go on for a couple of years as far as I’m concerned! It’s bloody fantastic. Having the savings to fall back on definitely helps to ease the brutal pain of being unemployed, but seriously, mate, if this goes on all summer I’ll be well happy!
Let's go back to the job that you had after the one in the restaurant kitchens. You didn't get to work there long before the virus took hold?
I did start the new job but only for a few weeks, and I wasn’t ‘on the books’ long enough to qualify for the furlough arrangement. (Even if I had been at work long enough, my wages were so low, it wouldn’t have made any difference really.) So when that restaurant closed down, I was on my own with lots of free time (It has since re-opened for takeaway orders.)
Despite being away from the UK so long, you've also received some financial help from the government, yes?
The government has been very good about sorting out money for those that need it. No other country in the world could have done more, as well and so quickly. There are some rules about the amount of savings you can have, etc, which make a difference to how and if you qualify. That’s all I can say about that.
I get the impression that moving back to England really was the right decision for you?
As it turns out the timing was more luck than judgment, but you’re right. I didn’t want to grow old in a foreign country, so coming back to the UK was the right decision. I’m not all that fit, but I am healthy, so I still may take another adventure on board, but for now, I’m happy and semi-retired, having come full circle in my life.
It was always my intention to come back and it would have been to either where I am now or in Cromer, Norfolk. As it turned out, where I am now is just about the best place I could be, fairly close to my family but not so close that they can bother me!
Any other negative aspects to life back home that we should mention?
I can understand everything that people are saying now. That’s a big negative! hahaha
Seriously though, I can’t think of anything. I’m taking my time over this because I’m really trying to think of some negative things - but I just can’t.
For anyone who's taught in Thailand for a number of years and is thinking of moving back, what sage advice would your experienced head now offer?
Have a bankroll of at least £10,000 for a decent car, a flat, and the wait for a job and salary to kick in. You may not need it but it’s a comfort having money in the bank if everything else around you is uncertain.
Do as much preparation as you can online or ahead of time to make the transition work for you. Landing at the airport and hoping for the best while sleeping on your mum’s sofa isn’t the best way forward!
And the predictable final question - what do you miss about your life in Thailand?
Good question, mate, and just because I couldn’t come up with any negatives about moving home to the UK, doesn’t mean that there aren’t things about Thailand that I miss. There are loads. The girls, the food, the work, the people, the travel all over Asia from Bangkok, the lifestyle. It was all fantastic, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed there for so long!
I have awesome memories of Thailand and certainly no regrets. It was one of the best experiences of my life. But you have to match your lifestyle with what you’re capable of doing. These days, I just can’t wait to roll my bowls close to the jack (is that how you even say that?) I hope I find out soon!
Cheers, Phil. Your friendship, camaraderie, and support over the years are the best things I brought home with me.