Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Testing times

MICKEY f*cking Mouse.
Never before have I ever really wanted to physically wipe the annoying smirk off the face of Disney’s favourite character.
Until now.
We’re in Anaheim, the home of Disney, just south of Los Angeles and I’m sat in an expensive hotel contemplating life, while being stared at by a giant cartoon mouse as excitable kids rush by.

But we’re not here to visit Disneyland.
We’re here for Jacky to sit an English exam.
Yes, you try explaining the reason behind this whole situation to your Mexican wife…
“If you want to live with me in England, you have to take an English exam,” is basically how I put it to her.
She understood enough to reply… "you're joking right?!"
Sadly not.
Her English is probably better than mine.
But here we are adhering to the rules in order for us to begin the next stage of our adventure.
In order for us to apply for and get a UK ‘spouse’ visa, Jacks has to demonstrate her understanding and grasp of the English language – at a fairly sizeable cost I might add.
Such has been the amount of drama, paperwork and unknowns we’ve had to deal with in the past two years, I’m seriously thinking that – if my journalistic career goes sideways – I might well open an immigration office of my own.
Given our experience, we’re now pretty much experts on UK/US/Mexico immigration matters.
We’re also pretty broke, and my grey hairs boast grey hairs.
My 01 visa to allow me to accept the anchorman job in San Diego took eight months to compile, apply for, and obtain.
While this UK ‘spouse’ visa application has taken less time and paperwork, it’s been every bit as stressful.
Who’d have known that we had to obtain an actual visa to allow my wife to accompany me to the UK!
Jacks could have accompanied me to the UK at any time. However given the immigration rules, she would have only been allowed to stay for a period of six months (or 180 days) as a ‘tourist’ – despite the fact that we’re legally married.
She then would have had to fly back to Mexico for two weeks, just to enable her to return to the UK for another 180 days.
With this UK ‘spouse’ visa, she can live and work for 2.5 years before she has to apply for the same visa all over again.
After that she can apparently apply for citizenship.
We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
I, like many other people I’m sure, thought that once you got married to a foreign national, your wife would automatically be allowed to accompany you to your country of origin to live and work.
But where’s the sense in that if the Government can make money out of it/you…?
The irony is that the UK is undeniably known as being lenient when it comes to its immigration laws.
When you come to do everything the right and proper way, it costs vast sums of money, effort and time.
How times seem to have changed hey?
Jacks and I seem to have officially applied just at the very moment things have become a). more complicated; and b). more costly.
Sorry… I digress.
As mentioned above, one of the main requirements to enable us to get the UK ‘spouse’ visa, is for the applicant to sit and take a bloody English exam.
Literally two days prior to us trying to book an exam in San Diego, the British Government issued an advisory that it had launched an investigation into “fraudulent” activity at the global provider of these exams.
This meant that – while the investigation was under way – all exams at these centres were suspended.
This in turn meant that rather than us being able to take the exam literally a few blocks from our Downtown apartment, we have had to travel to bloody Anaheim in order for Jacks to sit the exam.
The Pearson PTE Acadamic English exam (that’s the one we were told we had to take) is a wonder to behold.
In the days prior to her taking the exam, Jacks was busy studying hour after hour.
“What does this word mean…? And this one????” she’d ask.
“Absolutely no idea. Haven’t got a clue,” was more often my response.
The practice exams use archaic language and situations more akin with life in the 16th century – as opposed to life in 2014.

An example of part of the English test

Her actual exam consisted of a number of three-minute-long exercises among other tests.
Two of these exercises saw her listening to, and then summarizing, conferences on (… and I’m not making this up!!!) thermo-dynamic laws and civil wars.
Yes, this subject matter will come in useful in the coming weeks/months and years I’m sure.
Still there’s a means to an end.
On a visit to Mexico recently Jacky’s dad told me that ever since she was a little girl, she had dreamed of England.
She’d never been to England, or even met an Englishman.
But she loved the idea of it.
Out of fascination and intrigue I’ve just asked her again what she loves about the idea of England.
“The culture, the views, the music, James Bond, the Royal family and The Queen… it is like a fairy tale. It’s like a proper country,” she replied with a smile.
Strangely enough, no mention of the British food either…
Quite how she can list Pierce Brosnan as being the “best” James Bond though is beyond me.
Clearly we need to work on a few things.

UPDATE: Jacky PASSED her exam and the visa application has been sent off.
Fingers crossed folks.

Follow me on Twitter: @tristan_nichols

Friday, 4 April 2014

Customer (Dis)Service

SO... as many of you may have gleaned from my last blog post… the last few weeks have been anything but easy.
What with dealing with losing my job, selling all our possessions, moving out of our apartment, applying for a visa for Jacks (I’ll write about that little chestnut next), and filing taxes and dealing with the IRS among other things it’s fair to say my recent abundance of grey hairs now boast grey hairs themselves.
All we’ve really needed in the last few weeks to sort everything out has been some clarity. Some black and white. Some light at the end of this very dark tunnel.
But you know when you’re down, life has a funny way of well… kicking you in the balls and reminding you that things can always get worse.
They say bad luck comes in threes. We’re now into multiples of threes.
As well as dealing with all the above we’ve had to deal with… how shall I put it…? Hmmm… a bunch of ‘numpties’ I guess would sum them up.
It seems that if there’s one thing you can count on in any country around the world, it’s the fact that a company’s ‘customer service’ department is really just a sort of modern-day oxymoron.
I.e. Oxymoron - a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.
We all face these trials and tribulations on a daily basis when we contact the phone company which has over-charged us for calls we in fact didn’t make; the bank which charged us for going overdrawn when in fact it was the bank charge itself which put us overdrawn in the first place; the newspaper company which failed to stop delivery of newspapers despite being told three times.
There’s almost some comfort in considering the fact that with every passing second of each minute of each hour in a day, you know you’re not alone in your frustration.
Many vent their anger on social media.
I’m choosing to do it here, on a blog which is now read in more than 30 countries around the world (okay, that was a blatant boast).
Why? Because I guess I hope that someone working in a ‘customer service’ centre somewhere will read it and decide to do their job properly for the sake of some poor person’s sanity.
Put simply you frustrated flock, I feel your pain.
San Diego, and the great ‘U S of A’ in general, boasts some amazing things.
However your ‘customer service’ is not among them.
So… Pearson – the world’s “leading international education and information company” take a bow son.
A few weeks ago I tried to establish whether a local San Diego branch of Pearson organizes and hosts English exams.
Why I hear you ask…? We’ll get to that in the next blog…
Anyhow, I digress.
After having no luck in finding anyone to pick up the phone at the local branch, I took the advice of a national Pearson *cough* ‘customer service representative’ whose inordinate ability to really help, went against everything her job role boasted.
Instead I tried their ‘live chat’ customer service (you know, the ones where you instant message someone, somewhere about something?)
And here’s how it went:

Chat start time – Mar 10, 2014 7:02:56 PM EST.
Chat end time – Mar 10, 2014 7:19:50 PM EST.
Duration (actual chatting time) -  00:16:54.

info: Please wait for a site operator to respond.
info: You are now chatting with 'Andy'
Andy: Thank you for contacting GED® Testing Service Live Chat. My name is Andy. How can I help you today?
Tristan: Hi Andy
Andy: Hello Tristan.
Tristan: I'm in the process of applying for a 'spouse' visa for my Mexican wife so we can live and work in the UK
Tristan: The British government requires her to take an English exam... which your firm offers.
Tristan: We're looking at your website and clicking on the San Diego branch to look at dates, but it states that every single date for the rest of the year is booked!
info: Please wait while I transfer the chat to the best suited site operator.
info: You are now chatting with 'Angel'
Angel: Thank you for contacting Pearson VUE Live Chat. My name is Angel. How can I help you?
Tristan: Hi Angel
Tristan: See above
Angel: Hello Tristan.
Tristan: I'm in the process of applying for a 'spouse' visa for my Mexican wife so we can live and work in the UK Tristan: The British government requires her to take an English exam... which your firm offers.
Tristan: We're looking at your website and clicking on the San Diego branch to look at dates, but it states that every single date for the rest of the year is booked!
Tristan: I think the website is broken. I've also tried calling the branch but no-one picks up.
Angel: I'll be happy to assist you.
Angel: Please give me a minute while I check the information for you.
Tristan: Great.
Tristan: This is the address: Pearson Professional Centers-San Diego (North) CA
Tristan: 11770 Bernardo Plaza Court Suite 463 Sunroad Financial Plaza San Diego, California 92128 United States
Angel: Would you like me to check the dates for you?
Tristan: Yes, please.
Tristan: When I look it tells me that there are no available dates at all...
Angel: Is this for your wife?
Tristan: Yes
Angel: Is there any way you can get the candidate on chat with us?
Tristan: You mean my wife?
Tristan: Not right now.
Tristan: We simply want to know: a). if the branch is actually open; and b). if there are dates available.
Angel: I am sorry, we are not authorized to verify the information from third party. Please tell the candidate to contact us back, I'd like to give an additional information, you can schedule the test only when the dates are available at the specific test center.
Angel: No Issue, I'll check the dates for you.
Angel: Please give me a minute.
Tristan: With all due respect Angel, how would you know if I am me/my wife given that we're typing on a keyboard.
Tristan: We just want to know if this location is actually offering the test!
Angel: I'll check that for you.
Tristan: If not then we'll look to spend the money elsewhere.
Angel: I apologize for the above statement but we are instructed to do so
Angel: May I have the postal code?
Tristan: Could you simply tell me if the aforementioned site provides tests at that location?
Tristan: Test Center:Pearson Professional Centers-San Diego (North) CA Address: 11770 Bernardo Plaza Court Suite 463 Sunroad Financial Plaza San Diego, California 92128 United States
Angel: Please tell me the exam name, so that I can check the dates.
Tristan: PTE Academic.
Angel: Is this for PTE exam?
Angel: This chat line is available for IBM testing services.
Tristan: What are you talking about?
Tristan: PTE Academic measures your English ability by testing your level of English through tasks which reflect real-life settings.
Angel: I am unable to assist for PTE exam as I am not assigned for that. You have contacted to wrong chat line. This is for IBM testing services.
Tristan: Your colleague put you on...
Angel: Please contact PTE exam live chat support.
Tristan: You are useless. I will not be using your company.

Sixteen minutes… SIXTEEN minutes… of useless information.
And what did I glean from this conversation?
Nothing (apart from the fact that both ‘Andy’ and ‘Angel’ are useless to Pearson and to mankind in general).
Yes, all this from a company which boasts the slogan: “Always learning”.
Clearly they should change their slogan to “Always learning (from our mistakes)”.
Also boasting the same level of uselessness is H&R Block which is widely used by people in the States to prepare and complete tax returns on your behalf.
I’d heard mixed reviews about them, but decided to give them a go as they were “professionals” – and admittedly I don’t have a clue about UK taxes – let alone US ones.
Having now gained some experience of working with them, they appear to be a network of muppets, staffed by interns.
It’s no wonder the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) is so ruthless in its penny/cent-pinching when you realize that organizations like H&R Block operate in the way they do.
Rarely have I lost my temper in SD.
However, rarely have I also been dealt with in such a dis-organized and gormless way as I did a few weeks ago.
I won’t bore you with all the detail but here are the highlights…
Booked appointment with branch ‘manager’ because we informed him that our case was “complicated” and “time sensitive” due to impending departure from US shores.
We arrived at branch to discover that all staff were running late and hadn’t opened the branch yet.
Having waited for a further ten minutes it became obvious that the manager wasn’t going to show.
I asked staff member to get him on the phone to see where he was.
H&R Block staff member: “He says he’s not coming in…”
Me: “Tell him to finish his f*cking cornflakes and get his ass in gear.”
H&R Block staff member: “He says he’s not coming in.”
Note: no apology.
Other H&R Block staff member: “I can help…”
Me: “Without sounding rude, you’ve just told my wife that you ‘only started two weeks ago’. We have a complicated case…”
Anyhow long story cut short… I paid them a huge amount of money and they filed it incorrectly.
Great. Another thing to sort out.
So yes, the last few weeks have been fun… Not.
I imagine the sensation of me pulling my teeth out with a pair of rusty pliers would give me the same glowing satisfaction.
Anyhow… rant over.
*grabs coffee and rizla to roll cigarette*.
Next up… applying for a UK visa.
Hope you’re all well peeps.
I have missed you.

Follow me on Twitter: @tristan_nichols