To Have and To Hold…If the Gov’t Lets Me

It’s been three months since I’ve moved to London and I love my new city.  I had a dream wedding in York and, despite a few despairing encounters with the inefficiency of British bureaucracy, I now have the government’s permission to remain in the country as a legal immigrant.

A Fairy-Tale ‘I Do’

I’ve never been the girl with a folder of wedding clippings – built up and treasured since childhood – detailing the dress, the flowers, the venue, the cake. And so when it came time to plan my own wedding, I was a little nervous. But with the help of my husband, his parents and my sister, we created a fairy-tale wedding in York.

The day was perfect, everything I could have hoped for. My dad and sister came over from the States and we had 25 guests for the civil ceremony and reception at the Dean Court Hotel. My sister and I started the day at Westrow where Stephanie did fabulous things with our hair. Then we went back to the DCH to finish makeup, slip into the dress, swallow a few sips of champagne and take hold of the beautiful tulips supplied by the Garden of Eden. I walked into the McLeod Suite on my father’s arm to Mozart’s String Quartet No. 1 in G, and everything melted away to a colourful blur as soon as I saw my husband’s smiling face.

The civil ceremony was touching and emotional. We included readings from Madeleine L’Engle, Rainer Maria Rilke and Pablo Neruda. After the ceremony the rain stopped and we were able to dash outside for some photographs – capturing the special moments was photographer Dave Spink who I highly recommend! We mingled over arrival drinks with our friends and family and had a delicious lunch followed by a lemon buttercream cake made by Sarah from the Sugar Monkey Cake Co. And since five hours of celebration weren’t enough, we kept the party going throughout the evening at Kennedy’s. It was a lovely day, and we have plans to live happily ever after.

Bureaucratic Red Tape

Of course, ‘happily ever after’ includes a lot of real life that is seldom easy and doesn’t always make you happy. In the case of an American who marries a Brit and wants to set up life in England, it also includes many maddening interactions with British bureaucracy.

Take the process to apply for a spouse visa. We gathered our documents, prepared the application and booked a premium same-day service. I arrived and over the course of four hours moved from station to station around the cavernous room filled with the miserably despondent bodies of my fellow immigrants also applying for visas. Finally I was told that the computers were acting up and that they would keep all my documents – the really important ones like my passport and wedding certificate and mortgage – and try again in a day or two. I paid extra for this?

I spent the next week and a half calling for an update. Was the visa issued? Can I pick up my documents? They had no idea. Finally I received a letter saying we had missed a delivery from the border agency – my visa was just beyond reach. I called and set up a new delivery day with the couriers, which meant being at home from 9am to 5pm. Of course. I sat home all day – I even posted a note on the door with my phone number in case there was no answer to the doorbell. Finally at 4pm I called the courier only to find out that the driver had been at 1.30pm and said that there was no answer to the doorbell so he left.

Don’t insult my intelligence. I will swear to you that the driver simply couldn’t be bothered to find my street, my building or my door (the one with the note and my phone number) and perform his job. Livid doesn’t even begin to describe my emotional state. Suffice to say that at 8.30am the next day the package was delivered to a holding facility in Central London and I went to pick up my visa myself. I then went to retrieve my documents without being invited to since I assumed that if I had my visa in hand they really had no reason to keep passport. The really depressing thing is that I have to do all this again in just two years’ time when I apply for indefinite leave to remain. Sigh.

All of that, however, is a momentary irritation. Daily life is filled with so many joys and new discoveries – quiz nights at The Narrow, the Christian Louboutin show at the Design Museum, picnicking in Richmond Park, the School of Life’s lecture tour, cooking at home. This is my new reality and I’ve never been happier.

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