(Written on July 15th)
With an entry title that perfect, you might as well not bother reading the rest of this mega-entry, but I'm typing it out on my laptop's pretentious (and entirely self-inflicted) Dvorak keyboard, so you can at least appreciate the effort. Wonder when I'll get fed up of it. (Edited to add: Halfway down the third paragraph.)
I'll start off with brutal honesty - yesterday afternoon, I can comfortably say that I felt the worst I have done in my life. In fact I was going to post an entry saying exactly that, but talked myself out of it because I don't want to highlight the fact that this is, after all, a Livejournal.
I will instead begin the saga with a description of what my life goal is at the moment. My current objective is to obtain my visa and make it somehow to San Francisco, where I will eventually get married. One of the key steps in this process was the visa interview, and I went down to London on Thursday morning for the appointment on Friday.
The seven-hour train ride was actually one of the most comfortable journeys that I've taken - I had a table to myself for the whole trip despite there being reservation slips in the chairs all around me, so obviously I look too dangerous to be sat next to. There was even a socket in which I could use my laptop, and no journey seems too bad when you have about sixty ZZT games to keep you going.
On arrival at King's Cross, I hauled my huge unwieldy suitcase into a taxi and paid the extortionate £15 fare to get to Whitney's great-aunt's flat, where I was staying the night. I then learned that two other relatives were staying over as well, and only one of the two bathrooms was working. I really can't remember what I did to pass the time that evening, but fortunately the sleeping hours in that place are shifted forward a few hours from the rest of the country - I was provided with a camp bed in the living room.
Now, I don't want to seem ungrateful for the place to stay, but even without the accommodation problems, the flat is one of the most uncomfortable places in which to sleep I've ever experienced. For a start, the curtains on the full-wall living room window haven't closed for years, and it's the middle of summer, so there is no darkness apart from in the middle of the night. Added to this, her other great-nephew insisted on staying up in the living room with a light on reading while I was trying to sleep, and his phone kept on making noises. And occasionally, the land-line would go off as well, playing a supremely irritating rendition of "The Entertainer" every time someone phoned. It was, to sum up, absolutely ghastly.
I woke up at seven in the morning, which is surprising considering I didn't get any sleep. The morning routine wasn't as awkward as I had first anticipated, but I still got my suit on and my documents together ready for the appointment two hours before the interview was due to start. I set off on foot across Hyde Park, anxious to not get in the way any further.
(Now, unlike the rest of this entry, this next section could actually come in useful. If you're applying for a visa, this is what happens. It's not very pleasant, but you can read it to scare yourself anyway.)
I arrived at the embassy expecting something similar to the medical appointment - announcement of my arrival to reception, a wait in an upmarket waiting room, then a call to interview. Instead, I walked across the inexplicably-pronounced Grosvenor Square three quarters of an hour early for my appointment to be greeted with the sight of two queues stretching across the side of the building. I walked up to the front to ask which queue to join, and a guard with a gun that would have made Arnold Schwarzenegger proud directed me to the right place.
During a standing wait of over an hour, I was talking to Leann in the queue next to me, who was a teacher applying for the same type of visa as mine. We had time to exchange virtually all our life histories while propped up against the barrier fence, while a bottle-shaped guard with a beard lumbered up and down the queues shouting happily that people could pay him £20 to get in. Once we reached the head of the first queue, everyone with 10:30 appointments were then herded over to the second one, after a check of the visa letter and passport.
People from the second queue were slowly being called forwards to have another check of their documents before being let through to the security check in front of the embassy building. I always take ages at scanners like these because of the vast amount of things that I feel necessary to carry in my pockets at all times, and Leann was beginning to think that something dreadful had happened to me when I eventually got out of the portacabin.
So after a queue to get into a queue, then another queue for a security check, we had finally got into the building. This was another queue, but in a different sense - we each had to take a ticket and sit around waiting for our number and service window to be called, making it disturbingly like a supermarket delicatessen counter. Fortunately, immigrant (and near-immigrant) visas weren't terribly popular that day, and both of us were called within about half an hour.
I had expected the interview room to be slightly more private. Instead, it resembled the kind of thing you'd see at the post office. On arriving at window 13 (good sign or what?), I had to hand over the immense amount of forms that had been prepared for the day. The woman behind the desk made a comment about what a huge amount of paperwork I had, which I found rather insulting because I only had what the embassy had told me to bring with me. There was a moment of panic when she couldn't find one of the forms, but discovered it attached to the bottom of something else. I had to hand in my passport and return to the waiting room for the real interview.
Even though the sheet I had been given said that I could expect to wait several hours for an interview, I was called back almost immediately. This time it was to a different window, where I had to raise my right hand and swear an oath that I would tell the truth (being awkwardly unsure of what to say back, I answered "I do", which seemed vaguely inappropriate) before being asked a variety of questions about my relationship.
How did you first meet? - I had been expecting this one, but the whole story is so long-winded that I'm sure she had given up listening by the time I was finished.
How long have you known each other? - Any kind of mental arithmetic, no matter how simple, becomes an impossible task under pressure of time or interview. I had to count on my fingers.
Do you have plans for a job in Boston? - I stumbled over my words a bit here because I wanted to say that I'd been in contact with a number of companies without actually saying that none of them had replied to me. However, she seemed fine with my situation. She asked me what kind of degree I had, and on my reply of "Computer Science", told me that I would have no problems getting a job whatsoever. This was the effect I was hoping for, as everyone else who I've ever told that has had exactly the same reaction.
How do your parents like her, and when did they first meet? - I had absolutely no idea about when Whitney first met my family, and had to fob her off with saying that they had liked her and were happy with me marrying. I think it could possibly have been Easter 2004, but I'm not certain even now.
All of these are just to check that you do indeed know your fiancee. She said that she was pleased with my answers, and that unless my fingerprints came back showing I was a major criminal, I was assured a visa and could take my pink sheet of paper to the courier service. I did ask about picking up the visa myself, but their stupid system has now made that totally impossible. (My words, not hers.) I was also given back a large envelope containing an X-ray of my chest, which I have put in my suitcase, having absolutely no idea what else to do with it.
I rejoined Leann in yet another queue, this time for the courier service. She was told that her visa would arrive in five working days, which sent my blood pressure sky-rocketing because I had previously been told 24 hours, and had put down Whitney's great-aunt's address on my form. It turned out that my projected time was slightly better, being only 48 hours because they already had my medical results. I was told the visa would arrive on Friday, Saturday or, at worst, Monday. With my receipt, I headed off to find some lunch and phone Whitney with the neither good nor bad news.
It wasn't until I returned to the flat and asked if I could stay another couple of nights that I realised how limbo-like my current state was. I was practically housebound until the visa arrived, but being optimistic, I thought that Friday would be a good time to expect it to arrive as I was just around the corner from the embassy. It turned out that I was wrong.
After another torturous night being driven mad by sunlight and Scott Joplin's best-known work, I woke up at seven again despite meaning to sleep later. It's just totally impossible to get any sort of rest there, because things start happening at seven in the morning.
I went out for a walk in the hope of finding something to do, but it was Kensington, so there were nothing but clothing shops and Marks and Spencers as far as the eye could see. In addition to that, the weather has been incredibly hot for the last few days, and I feel as if I'm slowly melting every time I set foot outside.
Finding a park, I sat down to look at the receipt I'd been given, which told me that Secure Mail Services don't deliver on Saturdays. The woman at the embassy had misinformed me, and committed me to an entire weekend of blankness.
I was also beginning to feel very guilty for staying longer than I'd originally asked, and expressed that feeling to Whitney's great-aunt in the afternoon. She suggested that I could go home for a couple of days, and I phoned my parents with the idea.
When I started out the journey, I thought I could cope with a wait, but I couldn't - I was stuck with nothing happening at all, no companionship or activity other than being stuck inside, having to wait. It was at this point that I was at my all-time low. All journeys back up North seemed impossibly expensive or just plain impossible.
My mother phoned back with a suggestion that I would never have considered if I was in a steady frame of mind - to take the Megabus back up the road that night and rejoin my family, having my visaed passport posted up to me via special delivery on the day that it arrived at the flat. At the time it seemed fantastic, and I was willing even to overcome my bus-hate to book a £25 trip that night. I had weighed the options, and decided that 12 hours of hell was better than an indeterminate number of days of it. Besides, I've now seen hell, and it's a Scott Joplin ringtone.
The lunacy of this plan was eventually pointed out to me when Whitney (who has featured surprisingly little in this story so far) phoned me that night, and I sadly informed her that the visa hadn't come, wouldn't come on Saturday, and that I'd probably be dead by then anyway. But it took a phone call from Whitney's father to eventually convince me that my parents' plan (like many of their plans before that) was insane, and that I couldn't give up and delay it again when I was so close.
So I am now in a very reasonably-priced hotel just off Bayswater road. Even though it would seem my situation has changed very little, I feel much more comfortable here - it's somewhere that I don't feel I'm cluttering up all the time, and somewhere in which I have time to pass, rather than being forced to pass time for the sake of it. Well, it makes sense to me. The advertised "internet connection" is just a second phone line with exorbitant rates, and the shower shoots out water in all directions rather than the commonly accepted downward method, but other than that, things are looking much, much better.
I've already done an immensely shameful thing - I bought the The Sun, Newspaper for Idiots. (I needed something with a TV guide in it, and it was the cheapest one at the garage at the bottom of the road.) The headline is "The Lowest of the Low", which appropriately enough is what I feel like for contributing 55p to their cause.
I phoned the courier service yesterday to see if I could change the delivery address for the visa, but they said that they couldn't change it unless a delivery had already failed. That made virtually no sense to me, but being used to this kind of thing from anyone related to the Embassy, I just asked them if they had any record of my case. Surprisingly, they knew exactly where it was, and it's ready to be delivered on Monday. So that morning, I'm going to drag my suitcase back down to Kensington and sit and wait once again. Then it'll arrive, and I will rush down to the travel agent to get out of this place as soon as possible. And then, the whole visa saga will finally, not a moment too soon, draw to a close.