Saturday, 4 June 2011

Oranges Grow On Trees.

Note: this is long, and rambling. Scroll to the bottom for the main point.

America’s big. It’s huge. I get that, and it’s one of the things I love about this country. There’s a reason that for almost 700 years the Canterbury Tales was the only example of the road trip genre. America came along, and the way we see the journey got a whole lot more interesting. Before the twentieth century, travelling was hard, gruelling and more often than not your ox died of dysentery. Or something. Then we got cars, but in Europe there were winding country roads, inconvenient shepherds and the English motorway system. Cities grew out of towns which grew out of villages which built up around farms, churches and pubs. There wasn’t much logic to the layouts and so cars had a hard time. You couldn’t go fast, and couldn’t take a whole lot of pleasure in the journey.

Then Europe got quarrelsome, and America got rich and prosperous by supplying grain, steel and eventually men, to help the cause of people in the Old Countries who couldn’t remember what their differences were but were determined to settle them, however many bodies it took.

Around this time, an unscholarly man named Henry Ford came upon a way of making cars cheaply, primarily by eliminating skilled work and boring workers to death by performing the same individual task all day every day. We call this progress. “The American restlessness took on a new force,” as Mr Steinbeck put it. “No one was satisfied with where he was; he was on his way someplace else.” So the American psyche, faced with prosperity, propulsion and a whole lotta country in which to enjoy these two things, developed the idea of the road trip. This was a natural progression from the excitement of the frontier and the disappointment of the end of it. Add to that the stunning mountains, plains, lakes, deserts, oceans and, uh, trees, that needed Hollywood to come along to be called “cinematic” and the American Dream had a Landscape. Which is something to be Explored. So America likes cars, is what I’m saying.

Which was fine and dandy and kept those mustachioed men in the Southwest in bowling pins and goats’ milk (my knowledge of the early oil trade is limited to There Will Be Blood) while they drilled up huge quantities of sticky black goo from deep underground, where it was bothering nobody and contemplating the ridiculousness of life - one moment you’re swimming along with your plankton buddies, trying to avoid getting eaten by gigantic prehistoric whales, a pretty simple kind of life, the next, you’re dead, then millions of years later you’re still dead, hanging out and waiting for someone to come along and name the rocks that you call home “Texas.”

So the oil gets sucked out of the ground, gets warmed through in huge towers called distilleries, with none of the pleasant connotations that name has in, say, the Scottish Highlands, and then processed into petroleum, a liquid that the decidedly contrarian and illogical Americans call “gas.”

Soon, all that lovely Texas Tea wasn’t enough to feed the habit of Americans, so they looked abroad, to countries where camels were still the in thing, and they made some big families very rich. Blah blah, Middle East, politically unstable, religiously fractious, big money, cities built on sand, moral lessons etc.

The point is, right now wars are being fought, and the prize is oil. Oh, argue all you like about whether Iraq (oil), Afghanistan (pipelines) etc were directly to do with all this mineral energy, or whether they’re just convenient outcomes of other situations, but that’s the reality.

So we dig crude oil from the ground in countries where women aren’t allowed to drive and homosexuals aren’t allowed to exist (or from so far underwater that only a Dick would think it sensible to drill), ship it around the world in enormous tankers which have a worrying tendency to run aground and mess up some pretty large areas of wildernesses previously unspoilt (and Louisiana), refine the crap out of it, get some nice plastics as a by-product, and haul it out to gas stations all over America. And people complain that is costs $4 a gallon.

Four dollars a gallon. The other day I did a quick check in the supermarket. Milk is roughly the same prices, and there are cows in pretty much every county of every state. Orange juice is between $6-7 a gallon. More, relatively, if you buy it in smaller quantities, but let’s keep it simple.

I need to repeat this because I have rambled by way of introduction, and this is the crucial point here. Gasoline: $4 a gallon. Orange juice $6-7 a gallon.

The process that begins with politics/war > digging > global transportation > refining > more transportation concludes with a product that is roughly 2/3 the price of something THAT LITERALLY GROWS ON TREES.

Let's look at that again. You go to Florida, or Southern California (this is the obvious downside), pick a load of oranges off a tree, come back in a few months' time, and there are more oranges on the same tree. You take oil out of the ground, and once it's gone, you can't take any more from the same spot.

Then the same Americans who argue for deregulation of industry and corporations are demanding that the government do something about gas prices. Logic doesn’t stand a chance, really, does it?

Henry Ford’s other claim to fame is the phrase “history is bunk”. If you’re complaining about gas prices, do yourself a favor and listen to the man who started it all. Ignore history. Ignore the fact that in the past gas was unsustainably cheap. Accept that we now live in a world where supplies are dwindling, the environment is suffering, and public transportation is only limited by how much the public actually wants to use it. Don’t demand cheaper gas from the government, because it’s unreasonable, unrealistic and makes you look like ungrateful morons to the rest of the world. Demand better public transportation and remind the politicians who pays their wages and who is responsible for them being in office. Not the lobbyists, not the oil companies though they may provide some nice incentives. Remember, the gifts are flowing only as long as the people are willing to vote for you. The oil won’t flow forever. Deal with it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

"Tu Stultus Es"

I got Jack to tell the story today. My brother, and best man. Fulfilling his duties as such, I suppose.

"Oh, I'm visiting him. He's my brother, he's getting married to a girl from here. He lives here," is the basic story, embellished with details of how we met (internet/music festival), how long we've been doing the long distance thing, what my family thinks of it (he is obviously in a more favourable position than most to answer this one), etc, dependent on the level of interest of the person asking where we've come from and what we're doing here, as though we're heirs to the huddled masses of Ellis Island.

The problem is, I can't tell how much is too much detail. Like, when I cross the line from explaining adequately what a strange-accented (i.e. not Cockney or Upper Class Twit) Englishman is doing in their town, eating their food and volunteering with their non-profits, and exhorting myself as having the most fascinating, adventure-filled ex-pat life imaginable. Oh balls, I've gone into that sub-Pynchon, long, rambling sentence thing again. Ah well. If you don't like it, go parse yourself.

I think saying that I moved here to be with my fiancée, who is a Chicagoan, is usually enough. But that almost always raises further questions, which I feel uncomfortable answering partly because I can't escape the fact that the majority of the savings upon which I am living come from my late father's inheritance (oh, not much at all in the grand scheme of things, but enough to keep me in tremendous burgers until I can get a job), and partly because I feel awkward that many of the people I speak to have not been given/ taken/ created the necessary opportunities to move abroad and marry someone awesome.

Or maybe they just don't want to do that. Most people have what they want within basic geographical reach. Most people are comfortable with where they live, or have made their peace with it. I had real trouble writing the past two paragraphs without sounding incredibly arrogant, or naive, or simply like an impatient, restless man-child who ought to grow up and assume responsibility for a sensible, adult life. All of which are probably true. I'm big into pessimism and self-analysis. I take the attitude that if I at least identify and admit to personality flaws, I am excused all but the worst consequences and manifestations of said flaws. It's an egotist's get out of jail free card.

Maybe I'm also uncomfortable because I have never heard anyone else tell this story. I've met people who live in a foreign country with their native spouse, usually people in their forties or older, or who met and married while working in that country for some sort of multi-national corporation, jobs with whom are beyond the skillset of most of the people I know from home or university days. The pains of the literature student. I haven't, however, met anyone in their twenties in my situation, or in the interim between arriving in the country, getting married and being settled and assimilated, to a greater or lesser extent. In this context, assume a midatlantic accent and a boisterous, over-the-top pronunciation of words such as tomato, basil and parmesan somewhere exactly in between British and American pronunciations, apparently just to piss off waiters in Italian restaurants.

This leaves me feeling unique and this is not good for my ego. I need constant reminders that I am just another brick in a square hole, or something. It's a toss-up between feeling like I'm heading a cavalry charge into the glorious unknown, and leading the charge of the Light Brigade. "Follow me! I know the way!" I cry, while my friends hang back, and share anecdotes of how I once got lost in my own museum. That reference was not for Gina, who has only just watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark and still hasn't seen either of the other two Indiana Jones movies (say "there was a fourth movie" again, motherfucker! I dare you! I double dare you!). So there's that.

All this being said, if it's all the same to you, I'm going to drink screwdrivers and do the Onion crossword. Which leads me to ask: did I subconsciously set up this entire situation just to be able to live in a country that gives away free physical copies of The Onion each week?

Monday, 21 March 2011

If the estate of Douglas Adams ever gets hold of this blog, you never saw me, ok?

I am a British Citizen. My passport confirms this. Although the passport was issued by the United Kingdom, it is issued by Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of state, but is not elected by the people of the United Kingdom. Which is confusing, to say the least. Since I have little respect for the monarchy, on the grounds that they did nothing to deserve their wealth, power and status, I class myself as a republican. Of course, in America, being a Republican is an entirely different matter, and this difference emphasises the importance of capitalisation. Or capitalization.

Being a Republican is to support capitalism, which is different again. Capitalism can exist in a monarchy, but is subject to market forces, which often respond to chaos theory, in that the tiniest actions have huge consequences. A few individuals can decide, independently of each other and each for different reasons, to sell their stocks in a particular company. This can have a knock-on effect where people see stock prices fall, they sell their stocks before prices fall too low, and economies crash. This, at least, is my understanding of the matter. Abstractly, chaos theory is most famously represented by the example of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, which causes a hurricane in Borneo. Or a butterfly flapping its wings in Hull, causing a koala to crap itself in Coober Pedy. A monarch is a type of butterfly, named, presumably, because one cannot choose to be born a caterpillar any more than one can choose to be born into royalty. This doesn't explain why every single animal is not also called a monarch, other than the fact that this would be deeply confusing. I suppose we can be grateful that species are labelled by Latin names rather than by English names which would, presumably, afford each a hierarchical label based on each species' value to the Queen (or king; what other country must change its national anthem depending on the gender of the current head of state?).

Of course, this doesn't even begin to touch upon the fact that, although I am technically a British Citizen born in the United Kingdom, culturally I am English, and that somehow the rest of the world is expected to a) understand and b) accept this as a perfectly sensible state of affairs. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Scotch whisky, and there exists a photo of me, my father and my sister standing on a railway platform at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (named as such to make the town stand out for the sake of English tourists travelling in the Snowdonia region, but to embark upon a discussion of the significance of this is to miss the point, though it would seem entirely appropriate within the context of this utterly shambolic, rambolic, utter-bollocks blog post). I don't have any connection to Northern Ireland, direct or indirect, but that's not to say I don't ever think of them. They're victims of the monarchy more than most. But ultimately, despite my respect for the other nations (principalities? Nothing's simple. Don't get me started on Cornwall) I can't escape the fact that I consider myself to be English.

It's this somewhat wibbly sense of national identity that has made it so easy for me in America. Not because I possess the perfect combination of exotic-accent-whilst-being-a-native-English-speaker and white skin, though that is useful, a fact both depressing and convenient for me, but because a confused sense of identity is both America's greatest insecurity and its biggest secret.

I spent last night in discussion (mostly passively; I found it too interesting to butt in with my own meagre observations) with an American woman of Irish, Italian and German descent, an Irish-American woman and a Mexican-American man. The two women (interesting side note: I originally described them as "girls" but realised there was an issue of sexism in this, since they are both older than the person I described as a "man". Another identity crisis to be resolved another time, perhaps) grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the man on the North Side. The discussion was around perceptions of the various neighbourhoods in this city, described as being "hyper-segregated". The simplified conclusion that I drew was that the South Side is stereotyped as being rough and poor, despite areas of affluence, and the North Side is generalised (by, admittedly, a majority of North Siders more than anyone else) as being diverse, more affluent and inclusionist, despite many areas of segregation and deprivation. The other conclusion that I drew from this, is that this is an entirely Chicago-centric debate. The average person in Biloxi, Mississippi, is not going to make a different judgement on the character of a Chicago North Sider than a South Sider; the average Eritrean is not going to make a different judgement of a Chicagoan than a Biloxite (Biloxian? Biloxster?) and the average space traveller from a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse couldn't give a shit about the difference between oxygen-breathers from Eritrea or the United States.

Once again, the overall point of this post has been lost somewhere in the garbled mess of my explanations, as though buried in the sludge at the bottom of the Chicago river, though in writing this some vestige of relevance has been salvaged by my mind.

Sometime in the past couple of centuries (don't know exactly when; whilst most of the time consulting Wikipedia for certain facts lends a blog post a certain ring of truth, when you do it too much it becomes obvious and can detract from the veracity of the piece. And let's face it; nobody here really believed that I could spell, let alone pronounce, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch without consulting an external source beforehand) the city fathers decided to reverse the flow of the Chicago river, to prevent all the scrungy, gross human waste from contaminating the water supply that was drawn from Lake Michigan. The fact that they chose a solution that required nothing short of an engineering miracle, rather than just persuading people to shit a little less, and the fact that they actually pulled it off, are both admirable and make me proud to call this city home.

But more than this, I feel that a city where the river doesn't even know if it's coming or going is a perfect place for an Englishman from the United Kingdom who is a British citizen to live.

Yep. That was all I was getting at. Talk about your anti-climax, right?

Friday, 11 March 2011

This is what writers do.

I've been in Chicago for just over two weeks, and I've still not had a novel published. Or formed a band and wowed the local audiences. Or done anything with any of the inclinations that I like to think of as "talents".

There's still time. The Social Security office seems disinclined to issue me a number, which is a little irritating since I already technically have one. The thing with endless free time, is that it's not actually endless. I love having the time to cook for Gina in the evenings, and wander around the city as I please. I tend to get out of bed not long after Gina does, just because I always seem to wake up early and can't get back to sleep. But after a long breakfast, too much time arsing around on the internet and maybe half an hour reading, when I reach the point at which I feel I ought to start doing something productive, I just can't.

I'll open one of a dozen word documents and stare at stuff I wrote when I was out of the house from 6:30am to 5:30pm each day, and wonder how I did it. I'll stare at my guitar, amp and effects pedals and wonder how I managed to record something that the more generous music critics would call an "album" last year.

Or I'll go on the internet. Half-heartedly tab up a few sites for current interests that would satisfy the urge to do something creative. Brew my own beer (where, on the back porch? I guess, why not?), fix up the bike that was generously donated by someone who knows how to use her time in a worthwhile manner. That kind of thing. Then I'll just click onto Twitter (because I'm far too far up my own arse to admit to wasting serious time on Facebook), and there goes an afternoon.

And you know what? I love it. I keep getting these flashes of realism in my mind, and I tell myself "I live here". This morning Gina and I got our marriage license, from a building just across the Daley Plaza from where the Blues Brothers paid their taxes and were finally apprehended. I can go for a walk an end up in the neighbourhood where John Cusack moped away his life in a record store in High Fidelity. I can walk out to Lake Michigan. You know, that enormous, serene, wet bastard that freezes the crap out of this entire region in the winter (now).

Oh right, I should, like, talk about what I've been doing and junk, right. Went to a British-themed prom, drank lots of free beer, made friends with the natives (or the colonials? Presumably I was the native at this event?). Signed up to volunteer with 826CHI, the organisation that, uh, organised the prom. Settled in. Felt like home.

Oh right. The thing that inspired this post was how suddenly adult I feel. In a good way. Living my life the way I want, being sensible in what and how I eat, browsing in bookshops. That kind of thing. It's good. I like it. I think I'll stay.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

I had a jukebox graduate for a first mate, she couldn't sail but she sure could sing

I need to actually plan these posts beforehand, instead of writing just out of a sense of duty.

I no longer think of myself in student terms. I no longer think of life in student terms. That was an accidental pun. See, from the earliest age at which you can actually comprehend and remember the passage of time, your life's organised into these neat little passages; school days, weekends, half-term ("reading" weeks), Christmas and summer holidays. And the longer you stay in this world, the harder it is to break out of.

So once you graduate (assuming you can find full-time work - obligatory recognition of current economic climate), summer comes and goes without you noticing. Bank holidays creep up on you as they're no longer bookended by longer periods of time off. I used to look at calendars as though they were graphs. Holidays were peaks, school days and terms were troughs. For the last year a calendar has been my enemy; counting down irregular periods between visits and trips to America.

Now my calendar is like Robert Frost's path through the woods (I had to get some acknowledgement of my American Literature degree in there, really). Jesus, I can't do metaphors well, can I? If someone tells you metaphors are easy they're talking... as though... they're, um, a walrus with a degree in bullshit? See? If you're not in the right frame of mind you shoot for Wodehouse and end up knee deep in Mills and Boon. Hey, that one was alright actually. But I digress.

I'm not sure this is the road less travelled; plenty of people have married and moved abroad before. With the exception of the various indigenous tribes, ALL Americans are immigrants. I'm nothing new. There are no more trails to blaze. But like all good road-trips, the destination isn't as important as the journey. And making sure you have an excellent selection of tunes.

I've wandered again from the calendar imagery, but that's ok. It was a poor example. I was leading up to a point about my (our) untethered life from here on out. Frost's yellow wood is a sketch on a canvas, and it's open to change, re-interpretation and remixing, to put it in a contemporary context. There's this plan, that involves a wedding, and a move to San Francisco, and an eventual move back to the UK. But I don't know yet how this will pan out, when it will happen, how we do it. And this doesn't matter. Sticking to plans before you know the lay of the land will get your men gunned down the moment they step out of the trench. Yeah, war metaphors now. See what I meant about planning posts?

How about a nice quotable phrase? Here's one for the "what they said this week" section of a Sunday paper:

"Stress happens when life refuses to acknowledge your plans."

That's an original, but you can use it if you like. It's probably an adaptation of something someone else has already said anyway. Probably Winston Churchill, dude was a badass.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Long, factual, un-creative embassy review

Originally written for Visa Journey forums. No dumb metaphors or bizarrely artistic run-on sentences. I'll leave you to decide if that's a good thing or not.

I'd been to the embassy before for a J-1 student visa in 2006, so I was preparing myself for the long, tedious wait involved in non-immigrant applications. As it happened, my experience was far more efficient than before, and I was in and out far sooner than I'd expected. I brought a 2-inch thick wad of papers- copies of every single form we'd had to fill out at every stage of the process, originals and copies of my birth certificate, Gina's birth certificate, my police certificate, NOA-1 and NOA-2, relationship evidence etc etc. I even brought my old social security card, proof of the reason why I had been granted one, and evidence for the extension of my previous student visa. I was determined not to get caught short on paperwork!

My appointment was 9:00 on Monday, so I came down to London the day before and stayed with my brother in Islington. I left my phone with him, and arranged to meet him at noon if I didn't call him sooner. Instead of taking the tube, I decided to hire one of the "Boris Bikes" dotted around the city. So I got a nice scenic tour of London just before the rush hour hit.

Arrived at the Embassy and docked my bike at the opposite end of Grosvenor Square about 7:30 (paranoia more than punctuality). Outside at the front of the embassy there was one queue, manned by a couple of people checking everyone's passports and invitation letters, then people were called forward to another queue, where they checked payment receipts. Then we were ushered in groups of four or five into the security booth- a 20' square glass-walled box containing airport-style x-ray machines and walk-through metal detectors. No full body scanners (yet)! Through there, around to the entrance at the side. One last check of invitation letters, passports and receipts, then I got allocated a number and told to wait towards the far end of the room, near window 1.

There's a big waiting room, TV screens showing the numbers currently being processed, and a row of glass-screened service windows along the side. Mostly they were serving non-immigrant applications so only one window was allocated for immigrant visas. I was I-903, when I got in and sat down they were serving I-901. So my turn came around fairly quickly; I was waiting no more than 20 minutes.

When I was at the window, there was a large group at the windows next to me so it was quite noisy and I had difficulty hearing the woman behind the screen- there were no microphones or speakers so I was having to lean in close and ask her to repeat herself. I gave her my passport, 2 photos, and originals and copies of my birth certificate and ACPO report (police certificate). She then went to find my case file.

She came back, and asked me about the DS-156. She asked me when and why I had been denied a visa in the past, which made my heart stop for a moment - I've never been denied a visa! "So why did you check the box that says you have?" she asked. I didn't have an answer for that, and was terrified that I'd filled the form in wrong, so I asked to see it. It was the case file for someone with the same name as me- not mine! I explained this, and showed her my date of birth and address on my passport, and the same for the file she'd brought. Fortunately I had a copy of MY DS-156 to show her too. She went off to find my case file, I stood there taking deep breaths and trying to relax. She came back with my file, and laughed it off - "oh, Monday morning." I wasn't so amused…

Next was the fingerprinting, pretty straightforward and easy. She asked me the date of my medical, didn’t ask any more details about it. Then I was done, and sat back down. I was given a data CD with my chest x-ray on it, and a pink form to fill out my address for the courier service to return my passport. I'd only just finished filling it in when my number was called up, and I went to a window around the side, away from the main waiting area. This was moving much quicker than I'd anticipated.

The guy behind the screen was fantastic. He asked me to confirm all my details, then took my fingerprints again (just in case I'd switched with my evil twin in the waiting room, presumably). I had to hold up my hand, courtroom-style, and swear that all the information I'd given was true. He asked me what Gina does, and what I do here. He took financial support documents- we'd prepared a co-sponsor just in case but this was not needed. I had Gina's tax transcripts and W-2s going back to 2007, but he only took the ones from 2010 and returned the rest.

He asked how we met (internet forum for fans of Arcade Fire; in person at Coachella 07), and whether we'd started planning the wedding, where I'd be living etc. I told him, and then he asked me what kind of music Arcade Fire play. We had a short chat about that, I told him they'd announced shows in Chicago the week after the wedding which seemed quite appropriate. Obviously this had the ring of truth that he was looking for, as he then said "well, you are approved, you just need to take that form to the front and pay for the courier" and that was that! I told him that if he weren't behind a screen I would shake his hand, and he replied "consider it shaken". He was really friendly and obviously enjoyed being able to approve people!

It felt like the longest part of the process was waiting in line to pay for the courier.

The only thing I'm unsure about is that I was not given a sealed envelope to surrender at the point of entry, as I understood that everyone gets one, and is told not to open it in any circumstances... If it's not included in the courier package when my passport is returned I'll call the embassy and make sure it's all in order. But since I will be taking all the paperwork with me when I fly over, just to be on the safe side, I hope there won't be a problem.

While I was waiting, I was chatting to a guy around my age, who was also getting married to a Chicagoan. He took my email address so we're going to get in touch when we've both got set up. I went back over to see him after my interview, he said when he was at the first window they'd asked for his financial support documents, and he had no idea that he needed anything like that! I hope it worked out ok for him, I guess he'd just need to prepare the paperwork and send it in to the embassy.

Then I was out; found a payphone and called Gina, my mother and my brother, did a victory lap of Hyde Park on a bike, then went back to my brother's for a well-earned breakfast.

Everyone I spoke to was very friendly and helpful, from the security guards to the Americans actually processing the visa. It definitely pays to get there well before your actual appointment time, and over-prepare on the paperwork front. I think I got lucky with all the people I interacted with, as none of them seemed at all bureaucratic or "just-doing-my-job". Apart from the blip with the wrong case file, it went very smoothly and was a much better experience than my J-1 interview in 2006.

Approximate timeline:
Appointment time: 9:00.

Arrived at embassy: 7:40
Through security, into embassy: 8:10
Bottle of water, Kit Kat bar: 8:15
Called up to window 1: 8:25, 20 minutes max
Called up to window 16: 8:55, 10 minutes max
Queued up to pay: 9:05
Left embassy: 9:15

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Plan. A plan. Some plans. I plan, he/she plans, they plan, we plan.

So here's the current schedule:

Feb 6: I take an overpriced train to London, meet up with my brother, have him cook me a roast dinner. Hang out with his flatmates, drink sensible quantities of cheap wine. Reminisce about my days in student halls.

Feb 7: Up at dawn, surrender electronic devices to brother, arrange to meet him later in day. Head over to Grosvenor Square. Stand around whistling to myself, pissing off those around me. Surrender man-bag containing paperwork to be x-rayed, walk through a metal detector, take bag back. Receive deli-style numbered ticket. Wait for number to be called. Surrender paperwork again, give fingerprints and retinal scan, return to waiting area. Read book. Finish book, curse self for not bringing another. Get called up to window. Answer questions about myself, my fiancée, wedding plans, potential working plans, criminal convictions (none), outstanding arrest warrants (none), past immigratorial issues (none), general physical and mental health (fine; questionable, respectively), colour preferences, mother's maiden name, airspeed velocities of both African and European swallows. Trade sartorial tips with US immigration representative. All being well, surrender passport, leave embassy, drink. Just make it in time for last train to Loughborough.

Feb 8: hand in notice at work, nurse hangover. The former will help tremendously with the latter.

Feb 8 - week commencing Feb 22: buy plane tickets, sell unnecessary shit (hey, you wan' books? I sell you books. Good price, good price! I sell you CDs, guitars! Good prices! My eBay), inform student loan company that I am leaving and do not know when I will be able to begin repayments ("do you bite your thumb at me, sir?"), contact work pensions provider and demand contributions back (future security? Bless you, sir, no. Not for me!), end mobile phone contract ("I do bite my thumb sir, but I do not bite my thumb at YOU. Sir."), close down unnecessary bank and credit card accounts ("do you quarrel, sir?"), pack.

Sometime around 25 Feb: Hit the road, hit the air, hit the land. Show off fancy new K-1 visa to US Immigraton officials, assure them that the catering-size boxes of Scampi Fries and other assorted snacks are, indeed, for my own consumption and not for resale, hit the air again, hit the land, disembark, walk into the sunset of a brand new future...