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British Expat Newsletter: March 2013

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have recently signed up.

In this issue

This month

Here’s our news about the latest additions to the BE website.

This month’s newsletter is going out right in the middle of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. We hope those of you in the UK (or indeed anywhere else that has an Easter public holiday!) are enjoying your time off. Or have enjoyed it, if you have this newsletter delivered to your work email address.

It was also the weekend when the clocks went forward in Europe. So the Bank Holiday weekend’s actually been an hour shorter than it would have been. What a swizz, eh?

Anyway, on to website matters.

Scotland’s rightly famous for its majestic and rugged scenery, and Nate of the O, Pish posh! blog has sent in an article on five Scottish landmarks that have been used as film locations. We’ve got photos to go with it too, so you can see how many of them you recognise!

This month Dave has provided the Quick Quiz, and gone for a subject dear to his heart – ale. Those of you who consider yourselves serious drinkers may have to think again after trying this!

And our latest Pic of the Week is of Castle Stalker, in Loch Laich, a sea loch just north of Oban – tying in nicely with Nate’s article.

Editorial: Compound fracture

How many of you live on a private estate or compound?

It’s not something that’s particularly common in the Western world. You may find the odd residential street in the UK that has a discreet “Private Road” underneath the name on its sign – we used to live just round the corner from one in Surrey (oh all right then, Greater London), although to all intents and purposes it might as well have been a public footpath rather than a private road. But there are very few estates that are walled and gated.

On the other hand, in Cold War days private compounds in Soviet bloc countries used to be quite famous – the West used to make quite a song and dance about them. The East German government, for instance, had a compound for its ministers in a Berlin suburb called Pankow, which was one reason why West Germans used “Pankow” as a metonym for the East German government. (Another was to avoid any impression of accepting East Germany’s claim that East Berlin was its legal capital.) The implicit suggestion was that these so-called “socialist” leaders were hypocritically living a privileged lifestyle – which undoubtedly they were, although everything’s relative; income inequality was substantially lower in the East than the West.

But compounds are much more prevalent in developing countries. Security is the main reason. Where law enforcement is patchy – because the police are under-resourced, corrupt, or both – then there are clear attractions to being part of a community that has a bit of extra protection against lawbreakers. Restricting access is the obvious way of doing that; if you put up walls and gates that can keep all but the most determined thieves out, backed up by a 24-hour guard service, then most of your worries are over.

Economies of scale come into it too. Yes, you could build a wall around your own individual house and pay for a 24-hour guard service. But think how much less it would cost to build one big wall around 50 properties, with only one or two gates, and employ a dozen guards working shifts. Much cheaper than trying to secure and guard 50 individual homes.

Economies of scale apply to other amenities too. Yes, you too can have your own swimming pool – but only if you can afford the hassle of the maintenance. And unless you can also afford a seriously large property, is it really worth it for what’s little more than an oversized bath? Whereas if you’re on a compound, there’s a good chance that a communal pool will be of a size that you can get a decent swim in and will only be lightly used anyway. Much the same goes for cafes, bars and shops.

The sheer convenience of a compound can be great too. Imagine having to order bottled gas and drinking water, pay your electricity bill, organise phone and satellite TV and all the rest of it – especially if you don’t have a great command of the local language. On a compound, all that’s likely to be done for you. And if the compound’s big enough, you may even have backup facilities – so for instance if the grid power goes down, a generator for the whole compound kicks in.

So there are plenty of advantages to compound life. Small wonder that when we moved to Delhi and the compound doctor asked whether we thought we were likely to find compound life stressful, our answer was a resounding “No”!

And yet there are downsides too. Not so much for the residents – although compound life can be a bit claustrophobic if you start to believe that it’s not safe to venture outside, and closed communities can tend to be breeding grounds for gossip. There’s also a tendency to a siege mentality. (We’ve heard of people who never left their compound except to go to the airport for breaks abroad, and who were later heard boring their friends back in the UK with “When I was in India…” stories.)

The wider community beyond the compound walls suffers too.

Take Guatemala City, where an autonomous mini-city is being built at Cayalá on the outskirts. When completed, the settlement will extend across 352 hectares – about 40% bigger than Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens together. The developers say it’s for Guatemalans “of a variety of incomes”, but the cheapest units available so far would cost 70 times what the average Guatemalan earns in a year!

Security is the big attraction. Guatemala is a chaotic and largely lawless place – its homicide rate is one of the highest in the world – so it’s small wonder that some people like the idea of living in their own privately and discreetly policed community. (On the other hand, the city police aren’t allowed to enter without a warrant, which suggests that if a resident has a legitimate complaint against the management, the odds are somewhat stacked in the management’s favour. That’d be a worry if you were at all paranoid.)

But there’s the danger that if wealthy compound residents can afford to look after their own security, they’ll be more inclined to let the rest of the country go to the dogs. Likewise utilities, public amenities and all the rest of the things that make a city habitable.

So far, the fledgling city is very much a city for the rich. The developers hold out the prospect that later phases will be accessible to the less well-heeled, saying that variety is essential to the sustainability of the project. But others – particularly those involved in the development of the wider city – aren’t convinced. Their fear is that the people who benefit most from the capital’s economy, the very people who might be expected to put something back into their city, are turning their backs on it.

Have you lived on a compound? If so, what did you find were the upsides and downsides? If not, how do you feel about the idea? Why not tell us on our discussion forum?

Well, not so much a sponsor as a sponsee this month. Dave’s old University pal Anthony Mason is taking part in the Bupa Great Manchester Run on Sunday 26 May and is looking for sponsors – all proceeds to Cancer Research UK via JustGiving. And if you’re a UK taxpayer, then JustGiving will pass on the tax relief to Cancer Research UK too.
JustGiving: Anthony Mason

Write for British Expat

Would you like to write for British Expat? Sorry, we don’t pay for articles but if you have a website we’ll link to it in the author’s blurb below any of your articles we publish. We use all sorts of content as long as it’s useful and/or interesting to our readership.

Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes – five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

Recently we came across the Mapping London Blog – a weird and wonderful collection of maps of London, showing the capital in all sorts of ways you might not expect. It’s deliberately set out to be not just a collection of Underground maps, wonderful though Harry Beck’s original concept was – there’s much more, including a map of the most common surnames by locality, a map of life expectancy, a typographical map of the city centre… Hours of fun if you’re into maps!
Mapping London Blog
Meanwhile, if you want an Underground map with a difference, we thought the Anagram map was a good laugh!
Anagram Underground Map

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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