Still here

Oh yeah, look at this, I still have a blog. I haven’t updated it for half a year, but here it is, and here I am.

A lot has changed in 6 months. Cheryl and I got our visa. Cheryl had to quit her job and become an overstayer in order to start a fresh application. We paid (still are paying) for a solicitor and also paid extra for a quicker application. It was all done within a few days. I wish we could have done that last time to save us 18 months of stress and uncertainty!

I turned 30 and my dad turned 60. I spent a lot of time considering those ages because when I was born my dad was 30 and his dad was 60. It’s always made me think that I would have a child when I was 30. It’s not possible any more though. It’s strange to feel bad about breaking that sort of chain, but neither Cheryl nor I want a child right now.

Cheryl and I celebrated our 1st anniversary last week! We’re in the middle of planning wedding celebrations and ceremonies in Singapore and Nottingham at the moment. It’s going to be expensive, but hopefully we’ll have some spare money for going on some holidays. Cheryl hasn’t left the country for a fairly long time now, so a getaway would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve moved teams at work. I still work for Amazon, but now I am a developer on the Fire TV Music team. It’s an Android app, so it’s quite different from what I was doing before, but somehow more inline with what I’ve done in my own time over the last few years.

That pretty much outlines the major changes over the last 6 months. I guess I’ll update in 2015. ;)

Visa application and appeal process

Back in May I updated my blog saying that Cheryl’s visa appeal hearing was scheduled for August. Some time in August we got a letter saying that the hearing was going to be re-arranged for January. It was frustrating to find that out at such short notice, and it seemed weird that they only knew two weeks in advance that they had no space for 4 months, but what can we do about that?

January eventually turned up and Cheryl and I asked my dad and Rik to be witnesses at the hearing. Rik took a day off work and my dad travelled down from Mansfield for the night, both so they could give evidence to help us out.

We got to the hearing and discovered we were on a “float list” because our case was a simple one. We weren’t supported by a solicitor, so we went to the back of the line. We spent 6 hours sitting in a waiting room for the hearing to begin.

When we got in there the judge asked if my dad and Rik were there to give evidence, and we said yes. The judge asked everyone but Cheryl to wait outside, so we went into the hallway. After about 10 minutes they called me in to sit beside Cheryl.

The judge had asked Cheryl why we didn’t have a solicitor. Cheryl had told her that it was too expensive, and this is pretty much true. We thought our case was simple enough and we didn’t have £3000-5000 spare to pay for one when we organised the appeal.

The judge asked me about a bank statement we submitted with my train journeys on it. I’d submitted it because it showed that I used to buy a season ticket every month to get to work in Nottingham from Mansfield, but that the purchases stopped when Cheryl and I moved in together. She thought we’d submitted them to show that I was going to visit Cheryl. I corrected her for about 2 seconds at which point she dismissed me with a wave of her hand and changed the subject.

I don’t handle people being rude very well at the best of times, and I was pretty annoyed by her dismissal and lack of interest, but I couldn’t very well say anything because she’s a judge. Any argument would end up with our case being thrown out or something.

The judge then went on to state that since the home office had no representation and we had submitted new evidence that it would have to be sent to the home office. I asked if them not turning up had any repercussions for their side and, again, was dismissed in a very rude manner.

It’s extremely frustrating that after a year of waiting for this court date the home office didn’t even have to turn up. We spent a full year unsure of our future thanks to a shitty decision and had to spend 6 hours waiting to be all-but ignored by a judge and the people saying we are essentially lying didn’t even have to show up to prove their statements at all.

The judge didn’t ask to speak to my dad or Rik. We, somewhat naïvely thought that was a good sign, as if she thought she required more evidence surely she would have asked for them to speak.

Fast-forward to today. We got a letter from the judge saying that she had ruled against us based on a lack of evidence. The very first paragraph of the letter refers to “refusing his application” which goes to show the care and attention put into these matters.

Later in the letter she gives an account of her conversation with me: “He was somewhat anxious [understandably] about the procedure and I explained that the situation was somewhat now[sic] because they were married and that I might send this back to the Secretary of State to look at the matter again as there was no Presenting Officer.”

The situation was somewhat what?

There’s also a couple of mentions of a tenancy agreement. As far as I can tell there were only two tenancy agreements included in the documents we submitted: the tenancy agreement for my house in Mansfield, and the tenancy agreement Cheryl had for Ropewalk Court. The judge states, twice, that “her name” does not appear on the tenancy agreement.

Of course Cheryl’s name appears on her own tenancy agreement, so perhaps the judge is talking of the tenancy agreement for my house in Mansfield, but Cheryl served as my witness on that document, so her name appears there too. The other pertinent information on that document is that I give my address as the same address Cheryl lived at in Nottingham. This is a mere month after the date we have to prove we lived together. Since the case is supposed to be judged on a balance of probabilities I thought this would easily sway it in our favour.

So, all in all it’s safe to say I’m generally upset about the lack of attention that has been given to various aspects of the case.

Cheryl and I are now faced with a decision of either appealing once again (potentially another year, or longer), or applying for a married partner visa, which must be done from outside the UK.

Neither one is a tempting prospect.

Writing a blog post on BART

I’m currently on a BART train from Lafayette heading towards San Francisco. Last time I made a journey like this I could only access the Internet from my PC. The newest phone I’d used was a flip-phone and it was pretty much only good for calls, texts, telling the time, and playing a small version of poker on.

Today I can write a blog post using an on-screen keyboard, check my email, look up my location using GPS on a map that is downloaded as I need it, and the list goes on.

I am very impressed by how much technology has improved since then. :-)

Seattle

I’m currently in the Westin Hotel in Seattle, Washington. I’ve been sent here by Amazon. Originally I was going to be here for a week, but that got extended to two, and then three. It’s recently been changed back to two weeks, so I’ll be leaving here on Friday.

I’m going to go to the bay area for the first time since I lived there back in 2005. I imagine both I and the area itself have both changed a hell of a lot since then. For a start I am now married. :)

As soon as I found out I would be coming back to the USA I began making a list of all the things I want to eat and drink while I’m here. A lot of them are junk food. Some are things I can’t really get in Seattle, but should be able to find in the bay area. I’m really looking forward to going back there and I hope at least some things are exactly how I remember them.

When I first came to America it was almost everything I wanted it to be. I’d come from living in Mansfield for the vast majority of my life, to living in a large city or suburban area surrounding a city. I could get on BART and be in San Francisco city centre in under an hour. I could drive for under an hour and be at the top of a mountain.

Now I’ve come to Seattle 8 years later from London, and it feels anti-climactic. London is a bigger city than Seattle. It has a bigger population, more expansive transport systems that take you from anywhere to anywhere else in short order. It’s quite a strange feeling. I always had this idea of America in my head when I was younger, and the bay area fulfilled, or even surpassed that expectation. I guess didn’t realise that it wouldn’t be as impressive when coming from somewhere other than Mansfield.

I still like Seattle quite a lot. I would like to spend more time here if possible, but I don’t think I’m anywhere near as infatuated with the idea of America as I was before I saw more of the rest of the world.

Got engaged

Cheryl and I are engaged! :) It happened a few weeks ago, in fact. We’ve booked a place for the ceremony, been to give notice, and even bought engagement and wedding rings in the last three weeks or so.

We’re planning on keeping to a very small ceremony this time, but we plan on doing it all with a bit more style later on.

So yeah, I’m going to get married! Yikes!

Updating Remote Recorder

My job has recently changed from mostly programming in Perl to mostly Java. As such I’ve been playing around with Java at home a bit too.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from someone who bought my Sky+ Remote Recorder app asking if I’d be updating it. I replied saying that I wouldn’t because I didn’t think it was worth the effort when Sky have their own app and at least my asp still worked for people with older versions of Android.

A couple of days ago I read that Sky’s apps got pulled because they got hacked. I cursed myself for not having bothered to update my own app and decided it would be good practice at Java and would be a welcome improvement to the people who still use my app regularly.

I’ve spent my evenings working on a new version this week. It’s coming along quite slowly because I’ve got no experience of most of the new Android development practises or designs.

I hope to have a very basic ugly version working by the middle of next week and then spend some time polishing it and doing what testing I can on the devices at my disposal before releasing it.

Court date

Cheryl got a letter yesterday setting the court date for the hearing for her visa application appeal. It’s set for August 28th, which is a pretty long time into the future.

We’re going to look at hiring a solicitor to represent us in this because if it’s not insanely expensive we think it would help our case quite a lot. We have a bit of paperwork to prepare before that date, but it’s probably not really anything that we haven’t already got together for the original application.

Kind of all seems a bit silly since by the time we go to the hearing we will have been living together for over 3 years, and all we have to prove is 2. The UK Border Agency already accepted our evidence from March 2011, so it’s been well over 2 years at this point. This could all be avoided if common sense ruled.

Running

When Dan got back from New Zealand and stayed with us we began running together. I haven’t done much running since I finished school. Of course I’ve done the odd bit here and there. There was one particular instance where I went to the gym with Dave and ended up running 4 miles on my first attempt just to beat him. 3 months of shin splints later I’d decided not to bother very much.

Well, this time I did it properly. I went to a shop and had a basic gait analysis done. The lady informed me I needed neutral shoes. I spent £110 or so on some nice new running shoes to force myself to take it seriously. I then began running every 2 days for the last month. I have had to switch days a couple of times to fit in around other things, but I’ve basically been running regularly.

When I first started I was terrible at pacing myself. I would run far too fast and have to stop several times on a 5km run. I gradually learned to pace myself and kept increasing the distance I could run. Within two to three weeks I could run the entire 5km distance without stopping, maintaining a consistent pace throughout.

Yesterday Dan and I went for our usual run. It was cold and raining quite a bit, but you can’t let that stop you. We made sure we spoke to each other on the way around, and that helped to keep spirits high. I think music would achieve similar results if you’re running by yourself. Some form of distraction is definitely helpful.

We managed to run 10.74km in one hour and six minutes. We had a fairly consistent pace of around 6:14 per km.

In the last month, since taking up running, I have lost somewhere in the region of 7kg (1 stone 1lb, or 15lb).

It feels good. :)

UK Border Agency problems

Back in December Cheryl and I applied for an unmarried partner visa so Cheryl could continue to stay in the UK, keep her job, live in her house, and continue our relationship sensibly.

The main requirements were that we’d lived together in a serious and committed relationship for 2 years. We have lived together for almost 3 years now. Sadly, the proof required by the UK Border Agency basically only included letters from utilities companies or the government. When we first moved in together I had my own house. I was on all of the bills there, so I didn’t get myself added to Cheryl’s too.

The application letter said that it was advisable to get letters from people we lived with, or people who knew we lived together to cover any months we couldn’t account for ourselves. We got Rik to write us a letter because he introduced us and has known us both longer than we have known each other. We also got Tsomo to write us a letter because we lived with her at Ropewalk Court in Nottingham over 2 years ago.

When we got the reply from the UKBA it said that Cheryl’s visa application was rejected because they didn’t believe we met the definition of partners and we hadn’t been living together for long enough.

It’s infuriating to have some organisation make a decision about your entire future based on whether E-On can say you were living together or not.

We’ve requested an oral appeal, and submitted nearly 50 pages of Facebook relationship data to support that we’ve been together for more than long enough.

If they still say we weren’t together I’m not sure how we can prove it. It seems a lot like we’re being assumed guilty until we can prove we’re innocent here.