Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Day Dan Stood Still

Okay, so the last week has been more hectic than I could ever imagine and the two black Chanel bags under my eyes account for the lack of sleep. So let's start from the beginning. On the 17th July I called up the US Embassy to confirm my appointment after I emailed all the documents through to them. I had two choices for my appointment.. 8:00am or 8:30am on the 26th July.. Obviously I chose the latter as I thought 8:00am would've been too early – in hindsight 8:00am would've been perfect.

I'll just start by saying I quit smoking on the 19th July 2011. So things are obviously a lot worse than they usually are, for me anyway.

I booked my train on the 22nd July and I called my father to see if he could give me a lift. I haven't spoken to him in over a month and I thought him having to drive me 20 miles to pick up my tickets would have been okay (unfortunately I couldn't get my tickets sent to me as the dates landed over the weekend and I don't live in London so I couldn't get “express delivery”). It was okay! He said yes. What a shock, I thought he would've been “too busy” or “had a drink” but no, he was more than happy to drive me. He pulled up in front of my house with his new red Peugeot 107 with a smile on his face and his teeth being covered by his moustache which has been above his upper lip for the best part of 30 years. It's progressively turning grey, though. My father decided that he'd bring his intolerable fiancĂ© with him. She's a strange being. She doesn't speak much and isn't the best looking woman in the world. But once she's had a few drinks in her you can't shut her up – and I like talking, a lot. So she gets out of the car and pushes the seat forward and looks at me. My eyes looked at her like “Come on, love. I'm 6 foot 4 and there is no way I'm that nimble to be able to get in the back of that car”. Funnily enough, I found out I was that nimble! To cut a long story short, that journey took an hour and a half and as much of a good man my father is (sometimes), he doesn't half drive slowly. He'd call it “being careful” but I'd call it pissing me off because I was in a rush.

So Monday 25th comes along and I had a good 4 hour journey ahead of me. All packed and ready to go. I wonder around my local town thinking “this journey is going to be intolerable if I don't get something to read” so I picked up two books from the local library: Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King and The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. It's the very first time I've read a Stephen King book and I can assure you that I will be reading one again. I still have 40 pages to read but it's absolutely fantastic. The 4 hour journey was relaxing whilst reading, even though I can't usually read whilst travelling – dreaded travel sickness. When I'm on the train I usually fall in love with at least 3 gorgeous women walking around. Well when I say gorgeous, they're “train gorgeous”, which means that they're the nicest looking on the carriage and you would like to do some things with them which wouldn't even be disclosed within a court of law, right? This time I didn't fall in love with anyone. I fell in love with the book and I continued to read it, even when I finally got to my stop as I had to wait 45 minutes for my cousin to pick me up.

On the night of the 25th my cousin made me a Thai green curry, which was absolutely outstanding. We had a naan bread which was filled with Coriander and Garlic. Her husband came around as he doesn't live there at the moment as they're on a “break”. He came around specifically for me, so I could fix a couple of his laptops. I obliged, obviously. Sorted them both out and borrowed him the 3 pin plug connection for my laptop charger so he could charge his laptop. He bought a cheap charger from eBay and as he plugged the charger into the wall it instantly tripped the entire electrics within the apartment. Fantastic. I fixed that too. I decided that sleep was the best possible answer after travelling and socialising with family. So I finally got to bed at around midnight, but I couldn't sleep for love nor money. I had to be up at 4am, 4. I was tossing and turning for the best part of two hours and as I drifted off I must've been thinking about something bad and I startled myself, sat up in bed and I swear my heart stopped. There was silence throughout the house, my heart not beating, the inability to breathe. I sat up at the side of the bed and eventually had the energy to take in a deep breath to save my life, checked my phone and it was around 3:30am. I had to be up in 30 minutes. I laid there, unable to sleep. I think I must've slept around 2 hours that night, maximum.

So D-day arrived. The 26th July 2011. The day which is obviously going to be the marker for my life changing experiences. 7 days without a cigarette touching my lips, it was 4am in the morning and I got dressed. I started to eat breakfast and words from my mother the day before were echoing within my head “I feel like you're going for an execution, I don't know what the answer is going to be.” As I tucked in to my breakfast, I could imagine what the people in Death Row might have felt like having their last meal. My cousin decided she'd come to London with me, which was good as I'm not good at being on my own – as I said, I like to talk. So we catch the bus from Oxford at 5:00am and luckily 2 weeks ago I bought an ISIC card, which gave me £3 discount on the bus, get in! I continued to read Dolores Claiborne on the bus, the plot was getting mightily juicy. The bus was travelling extraordinarily fast. There was a guy sitting opposite me with an iPad 2, which was obviously jailbroken as he was using FaceTime with someone over his 3G signal. Quite a few business men were on the bus as well. Why on earth would you work in London having to travel from Oxford at 5am. Are they mad? Perhaps, but it's a job, I suppose! We arrived in London at 6:22am. We parked up right outside a Costa, which wasn't open until 6:30am to our utter disgust. Luckily the Starbucks opposite was open, so we strolled right in! I had a Caramel Frappucino with extra coffee in it. What a lovely breakfast. As we walked down Baker Street, we both looked at each other and thought that we were here way too early. It was now around 1 hour and 45 minutes until my interview. We wondered around looking for the US Embassy, baffled why we couldn't see it. We asked a Met Police officer with a gun strapped around him where the Embassy was. He pointed behind him with his thumb as he looked at us. “It's here, mate, you're standing right outside it!” I said “Fantastic! Though we're here way too early.” He asked whether I had an interview letter. Of course I had an interview letter, I've been wanting this interview for god knows how long. I'm sure he wouldn't have known that, though.

My cousin and I bump in to two guys standing in the queue for the US Embassy at 7:20am, I was wondering why. I asked them and they said “it gets really busy mate. Get in the queue now!” so I got in to the queue and waited. 30 minutes pass and I was getting rather edgy and my knee was hurting severely. Once the two people came out to check documents, they gave us a small plastic bag to put our stuff in... Wallet, watch and random change in my pocket. I then told my cousin she couldn't come in with me and she had to stand outside waiting for me. I told her I could be up to 4 hours, to her utter disbelief. So I depart company from my cousin with all my paperwork in hand and go through the first check point, being scanned by a metal detector. I didn't beep! I then picked up my stuff from the plastic bag and continued on my journey to the next check point. Whilst putting my watch back on, I get to the next check point, where I got assigned the number “N7” by the nice Scottish woman behind the desk. The waiting game took place. It was 7:55am and I was 7th in line to being seen. 8am arrived and the entire embassy sprung to life, all the workers were at their pods ready (most of them armed with Starbucks and a Subway sandwich wrapper beside them, I might add). “N1” got called. N1 was the guy which I spoke to originally to see why he was in the queue so early. “N2” was next.. And so on until it was my turn, 5 minutes later. I shuffle towards the woman and she went through all my documents, asking me why I had been arrested so long ago, a lifetime ago. I explained thoroughly. She then progressed to take my finger prints. Left hand 4 fingers, right hand 4 fingers and 2 thumbs, respectively. She then says everything is fine and takes the documents she wants, including the new passport which I mentioned in a previous blog. I then had to sit down and fill in another form and wait my turn. This is where I start to panic. “N1” gets called.. I thought “not long now”. “N2” gets called.. I was thinking “yes, I'll be out by 20 past 8!” N3...N4...N8...N9... Why didn't they call me?! 20 minutes pass. My heart is pounding, unlike when I woke up that same morning and the sweat dripping from my hands and forehead was unprecedented. Within the entire history of mankind, I don't think anyone has ever had that much sweat on them. I hear the magic words “N7 to interview room 19, please”. YES! I thought to myself, then my legs felt like they were weighed down with lead weights. I walked so slowly. I could see the woman sitting there ready to grill me about my arrest. To grill me about why I wanted to study in the US. To grill me, full stop. In fact, she was the complete opposite to what I thought she was going to be. She was a very nice woman. An American woman. Nice brown eyes and very clean teeth. She asked me the reasons why I got arrested and I explained to her that it was 5 years ago, and I was 17 years old. I had too much to drink and I had a fight. She said was like “drinking when you were 17?! You must've looked older than you were!” I said “yes, I always have been tall” I didn't say I have always been fat, though. As the interview progressed, she said this to me “can you promise me something? Can you firstly, not drink and secondly, don't fight in Utah?” I replied “yes” without hesitation, though I'm obviously going to have a few drinks – social drinks. She then said “I've issued you with your visa, take this document and pay for your fee!” I skipped towards the desk where you had to pay, then my heart sank. I saw the price was £14.80.. I only had £10 on me. The sign also said “card payments only” I only had cash. Panicking, I checked my wallet. Thank god I left my credit card in there. I couldn't remember my pin but the lovely lady decided to swipe it and look at my old passport signature as proof that I am who I say I am. Funny that, they still check to see who I am, even though I've just gone through 2 interview processes. I walk out of the Embassy, and I see a woman there crying. They denied her a Visa, but let her husband have one, she was totally hysterical. She was absolutely gorgeous too, better than any woman I've never seen on the train, anyway!

The time was now 9am. What to do in London for the rest of the day? I finally meet up with my cousin and we do the usual cliché sightseeing. We went to Leicester Square, Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, the Strand. I finally got to saw the London Eye, the River Thames, Big Ben.. The Houses of Parliament! We then went back to Chinatown at 12pm where we had a stunning all you can eat buffet. Getting progressively tired, we decided 1pm was enough and we made our way back to Victoria Coach Station where we caught the bus back to Oxford. That bus was extraordinarily hot on the way back and I still have the burn mark on my left arse cheek from the radiator.

So that's what has been going on in my life for the past week or so. I told you, manic!

Now I'm just having to pull the money together to get the flights to Utah, and I'll be on my way!... By the 12th August, anyway.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Butterfly Effect

For two months I have been worried about being able to study abroad at the University of Utah. Finally, I received the go ahead on the 1st July, which was utterly fantastic... or so I thought. This is where my torment began. 

Within one week I have almost become clinically insane trying to sort out everything from paperwork to funds to be able to show the US Embassy that I am in fact capable of looking out for myself whilst residing in the U.S of A. Everything has deteriorated in an ever increasing downward spiral. 

So where shall I begin? The call from the study abroad office came a week late, because of an "admin" problem, which didn't please me one bit. I am very impatient. Thankfully, the go ahead came and I could start actioning everything, getting everything in order so I can leave around the 12th August. Right now, the 12th August is so close I'm not sure everything will be done in time.

I started by paying off several fees which I know I should have done already, but I didn't want to fork out that much money before I got the results through just in case, then all that money would have been used for no reason and funnily enough, every bit of it is "non-refundable". So after I've paid my SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee, it was time for me to call up the US Embassy to book an appointment, which was great! Things were finally falling in to place.

And this is where everything took a massive halt. The lovely Scottish guy at the US Embassy started talking to me, took my details down, passport number, the usual details. He asked me if I had ever been arrested. I could have said "no", but something could happen in America, whereby they found out that I did get arrested and I would be in a load of trouble. So I said "yes... 5 years ago when I was 17" and everything fell on my body just about then, I knew this wasn't going to be an easy ride whatsoever. 

The first "butterfly effect" scenario:

The reason why I got arrested is because I had a little too much to drink and unfortunately lashed out on a friend. Since then I have never had any involvement with the police, and because I was a "minor", I honestly thought it wouldn't have mattered, but it does.

I can't believe something so small and so trivial could essentially ruin my chances of studying in America because I was young, naive and had an unfortunate "I don't care" attitude.  

As my money starts to dwindle, I get the message from the guy at the US Embassy to say that I have to pay yet another "non-refundable" fee to make an appointment, or at least hear him talk about me maybe having an appointment. I have to pay this fee anyway, as I need the "MRV" document whilst getting in to the US Embassy, so I didn't mind. He then progresses to tell me that I have to fill in a form complete it and send it off to ACPO (Association of Police Chief Officers) just so I can scan the document and fill in another form and email them in to see whether I'm suitable enough to have an interview at the US Embassy or not.

I have yet to receive the ACPO letter back, after paying £77 for the pleasure of them to print off a sheet of paper and deliver it back to me. I only sent it off today, so I'm not asking for anything right now, but time is of the essence, and I don't have time.

The second "butterfly effect" scenario:

Oh, another thing... my passport is damaged, what a surprise. And all because a friend accidently spilt coke over it a few months ago, I thought it would have been fine. 

I have asked numerous people to see whether the passport would suffice whilst travelling, all have said no. Great. So I called up the passport office as well, and I have to have an appointment to get a replacement passport. Fan-bloody-tastic. Could anything else go wrong? Well, I have to pay £122 for "fast track" because I need the passport as fast as humanly possible. So that means having to take a day off work to go to the passport office almost 100 miles away. 

So that's where I am right now, awaiting for letters to come through so I can hopefully get an appointment at the US Embassy so I can get my Visa sorted and buy my flights and insurance. The next time I write here will either be me absolutely ecstatic that I have got everything successfully actioned, or me moaning about how ludicrous  the World's governments are as they cannot speed processes up. I honestly hope for the former.

I could do with a cigarette. Will I have to write another "butterfly effect" scenario 30 years from now?