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Sunday, 20 September 2009


Yesterday was my last day as a Morris Man, a full day tour arranged by the Yateley Morris Men, with eight different men's sides in attendance.

If you have no idea what a Morris Man is, I can recommend this short article by one of our novices, Simon:

or for a slightly more tongue-in-cheek view, try to see "Morris: A Life With Bells On".

For four years I've been a member of Spring Grove and Off-Spring Morris, based in the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames. I joined in the Autumn of 2005 because I was looking for a musical outlet where I could play my recently acquired Melodeon. I had until then been spending Monday nights at an English Folk Music evening class in Chiswick, but the Chiswick Council decided to double their fees overnight. About the same time, I spotted an advert for musicians to play for Morris Dancing, so I made my way along and joined the Spring Grove team.

That first Autumn I was one of three musicians playing for the side, and as I wasn't very adept on the melodeon I also took my fiddle along. Big mistake as far as learning the melodeon went, because now I was the side's only fiddler, and a fiddle plus a melodeon sounds better than two melodeons. I also was encouraged to dance, so I ended up with three different roles, fiddler, melodeonist and dancer. Overall the three complimented each other and kept me busy, but required three times the work.

However by the the 2007-2008 Season I was finding the travel increasingly difficult and tiring, as I am actually quite a way from Kingston and I was getting home very late on a Monday night, so I restricted myself to turning out with the side when I could, but not attending practise as I had for the previous 3 years.

In place of Morris practise on Monday evenings, I rejoined my English folk music group, who had by now relocated, ironically to a pub back room five minutes walk from my house. Most of my old friends were still playing there, and I was soon up to speed on the favourite tunes. We play occasionally for Country Dances, so I get my musical fix locally, and the fun of playing for dancing.

So it's farewell to Morris, at least for now. There is a Morris side in Portland, but that's too far for regular attendance, and I don't really want to hang onto my old hobbies when I'm in the USA, I want to develop new interests and make new friends.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


As this is (hopefully) my last Autumn in England, at least for some time to come, I am taking more notice of the changes of season than usual. Certainly it hasn't escaped my notice, especially on my cycle rides, that it's conker season again.

Conkers are the seeds of the Horse Chestnut tree, of which we have a large number in Ealing. They grow on the tree in a spiky yellow ball, and around this time of year they drop down like shrapnel. The seed plus spiky ball weighs several ounces, so it's wise to wear a hat while out and about. The seed itself is chestnut-coloured (suprise) with a white patch on one side, and used to be much prized by schoolboys for conker fights. These are probably now banned for health and safety reasons.

Once when I was about 11 I went round with a friend collecting conkers, with a vague idea of having a massive conker battle later. We packed the biggest, shiniest conkers into my bicycle saddlebag, and off home we went. The conkers then laid forgotten in the dark until I next had need of the bag, when I discovered a grey mould had enveloped them, rendering both the conkers and the saddlebag no longer fit for their intended purposes.

I'm sure there's some lesson to be learnt there, if only by squirrels.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


OK, I had my medical yesterday, so here's the story.

We got our Visa Application Approval Confirmation letter on 20th Aug, but until Tuesday had heard nothing further, so I rang the extortion line to ask if they had sent anything yet. Yes, they sent it on Fri 4th Sept, so it should arrive soon (it hasn't shown yet).

I also asked for my case number and was given it, so that allowed us to put in the next set of paperwork today (B. has had it ready for weeks) and book the medical without waiting for their next letter.

So I immediately rang the medical office for an appointment and was told to name a date, so I said today (well, yesterday I said tomorrow, but you get my drift), and was offered 8:55am. Living in London that suited me. Early start = less chance of a long wait.

So bright and early I turned up at 4 Bentick Mansions near Bond Street tube station, after walking right past it a couple of times, because I was desperate for the loo and none of the local shops or cafes have one.

At reception I handed over my passport (which I got back after they photocopied it), my immunisation records, a completed questionnaire (do you use hard drugs, that sort of thing), and a British-size passport photo. They will accept either Brit or American size, so I chose Brit as I had more of them spare (I was carrying a couple of each to be safe). My immunisation record comprised the results of a blood test I'd had done by my GP in mid-July, and the jabs I'd had done to cover things I thought I needed but probably didn't (and at a cost).

Waited maybe ten minutes, one other guy was there before me, and while I waited I was asked to complete another questionnaire and sign a form agreeing to a blood test. I also had time to peruse the celebrity-chasing magazines. Who on earth reads these things?

Then I was called by the nurse, and she said my GP's blood test sheet didn't show anything about Measles and Mumps, though I had immunity to Rubella (Chicken Pox) so didn't need that. Thanks GP surgery for not reading my letter explaining what I needed to show I had - I'm pretty sure I've had both those diseases already, and could have had the jab cheaper from the GP if required.

However they would do a MMR jab for £35, so I had that done immediately. I could have gone back to my GP, but we want to get all our ducks in a row so it wasn't worth fussing over the difference. Barely felt the needle, but I'm warned I may feel a little feverish in 5 days. The nurse was chatty and pleasant, asking about where I was moving to and saying she always meets people off to lovely places (i.e. anywhere that isn't the UK) while she has to stay in London.

Back to the waiting room for another five or so minutes, and there's a lot more people there now. I discover there's a beachwear edition of the celebrity mag, but I'm called very quickly for the X-ray.

X-ray man also very nice and chatty. He weighs me but with shoes and clothes on so they're not massively concerned - I'm about 10 pounds overweight by my GP's assessment. I strip off my T-shirt and make like a chicken in front of the X-ray plate, shoulders up and forward to spread the shoulder blades (the X-Ray man tells me how), and holding an x-ray proof sheet over my backside rather awkwardly. Bingo that's done and back to the waiting room, remembering to put on my T-shirt.

Barely time to pick up the beachwear issue again before I'm called again, this time by the doctor.
The doctor is a lovely American woman, mid-twenties to thirties, asks me all the questions I've already answered on the questionnaire, twice, but in a bit more detail, and a couple of new ones (Have I ever been arrested? How does that affect my medical condition?). I do a quick sight test wearing my glasses, 2nd from bottom line one way with right eye and backwards with the left, no problems.

Now it's time for the genital examination...

I wasn't quite sure what to expect but the Doctor asked me to step behind a curtain, drop my trousers and boxers, and put my hands on my hips. Deep Breath, stand proud, I tell myself, everyone has to do this so let's get it over with. With a dramatic swish she pulls back the curtain and asks me to cough. I do, and she pulls the curtain across again and tells me to get dressed. That's it? A cursory glance at the family jewels as they jiggle? Apparently so.

She asks me to lie down on the paper-covered gurney and listens to my lungs and other internals, from various angles, and now it's blood test time. I'm used to needles from doing blood donations for over 25 years so it was really no bother, I barely felt it. She explains that she uses a size 18 needle (I don't think these match knitting needle sizes) because it damages the red blood cells less, and gets a better result.

She puts a plaster and a cotton ball on the dribbling bloody hole and asks me to hold my arm up for 5 minutes and apply pressure with my other thumb (or was it a finger, I forget) while she checks the blood there and then. Mine's red and drippy.

She does a blood pressure test (I think I was 120/85, anyway it was healthy enough), but apparently there's a bit more blood leak than she expected from my needle hole, so she puts a fresh plaster on, lump of cotton wool, and straps it round with medical tape, telling me to keep pressure on and my arm straight for 10 minutes, and to go back to the waiting room. She also says that the tests are fine, she has my mobile number if she needs to call me but 99% chance she won't, and the results will be with the US Embassy around Tuesday next week.

So back to the waiting room and that magazine (I'm really worried about Victoria Beckham's weight loss, and need to re-check Kelly Brook's beach photos) but almost immediately I'm called to pay the bill (now I'll never know if Jordan gets that 4th boob-job).

I leave the building lighter in wallet, but also in spirit.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Visa Stage 2

Nearly three weeks after the first letter confirming we're still waiting for the next packet of information to arrive. Last week we noticed that on the letter (but not on the envelope) they had B's address wrong...

So we emailed the Embassy, and should get a response in the next couple of days - if we don't we'll have to ring them on their very expensive phone line.

There have been postal strikes in various areas of the country for weeks, but these shouldn't hold something up for three weeks, and my wife's address and my address, though actually the same, might not be the same on the US Embassy computers, so one being wrong does not necessarily mean they're both wrong. It's an annoyance we didn't need, and no doubt stems from someone carelessly entering information from the wrong part of the original form.


Update: So worried were we that I rang the US Embassy to check progress. The form we are waiting for was only sent last Friday, 2 weeks after the previous letter was received, so it's not lost in the post and should arrive any day now. The address on their computer system is correct, and the lady at the Embassy had no idea where the wrong address on the letter came from. I also confirmed our case number, so we don't even have to wait for this letter to arrive, we can complete the two DS-23o forms and send them in immediately.


Update 2: Having got our case number over the phone, I am now able to book my medical, so never being one to wait for the iron to cool, I rang the medical people (with a little nudging and a lot of helpful lookups from B.) and now have my medical scheduled for 8:55am tomorrow! As we planned ahead and I got all my shots done July this should be a breeze, though one never knows. After that it's just the interview itself we have to wait for.

Many people have the medical and final interview on the same day, but they are travelling from further afield - I've only got to travel about ten stops on the tube.