Indefinite Leave to Remain appointment in Croydon

September 26, 2011 8pm in Random Ramblings | Comments (39)

Finally after being in the UK for five years, I get to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. Actually, I’ve been here five and a half years, but the first half a year was on a Working Holiday visa and so didn’t count.

A month ago I booked an appointment for 3:30pm for today’s date at the Croydon Public Enquiry Office (PEO), and the big day has finally arrived. So I left my house in Tower Hamlets at 2pm, with my 276 pages of documents, plus two photos and two passports (current passport and last expired one):

My indefinite leave to remain application

Arriving in West Croydon there was even a sign pointing towards the Home Office, so I followed it, but that was the last of the signs. Lucky I had maps on my phone, although I wasn’t very happy using my phone in Croydon because it’s not the nicest part of London.

It wasn’t long before I spotted the Home Office’s beautiful building known as Lunar House in Croydon:

Lunar House in West Croydon Lunar House in West Croydon

I had arrived at 2:55pm for my 3:30pm appointment, about right given that they ask you to get there half an hour early to get through security. Well, security was the first step, it was just like being at an airport with an xray with conveyer belt and a metal detector. That took all of about 2 minutes.

Then, I went up to window 6 and talked to a woman who asked me for various bits of my application, including the application itself (known as SET(O)), three months of payslips and my passports (current one and expired one). When I suggested that she take all my documents, I got told “please just give me what I ask for”. Oops. She sent me up to the payment area, and I hoped that that was it. But I knew it probably wasn’t.

The next bit was the easy bit, I put my credit card into the chip-n-pin machine and paid my £1,350. Ouch!

UKBA Indefinite Leave To Remain Receipt

At least the UK Border Agency admit that the extortionate fees go purely to the government, and don’t pretend that it’s to administer the scheme or anything like that. Apparently, Indefinite Leave to Remain was free before 2003.

So by now it was 3:10pm. I was directed to a waiting room with a heap of other people. I sat there for what felt like ages, not playing on my phone because I am a good boy who observed the “turn your mobile phones off” sign, although nobody else did.

A lot of time passed, it was 4:45pm after a while, and absolutely nothing had happened. I was sure the kids nearby would have stopped screaming by now but no, they still had plenty of air in their lungs. I was getting very agitated. The worst bit was that the interview booths were in the waiting room, I figured you would get called to a separate area but no, you have to have your interview in the same room as screaming kids, people talking on cellphones and just general noise. I think that’s totally unfair, and I was sure to mention that on the customer feedback form!

I didn’t take the following picture, I found it on another website which you can get to by clicking the picture. That’s where everybody sits waiting for their interview, but when you’re called, you have your interview in the front row of seats there – the interview booths are there but you can’t really see them in the picture.

Lunar house waiting area

I still hadn’t been called by 5pm, and I noticed that when the staff were finishing with their applicants, they were closing their booths. This of course got me worried that they’d forgotten about me, because the number of people in the room was dwindling. So I asked at the customer service desk, but they assured me that my turn was coming. Really, what’s the point of booking an appointment if you just have to take a number?

Well at 5:15pm I did finally get up there. The woman asked me for some of my documents, and then asked me why I’d spent a lot of time out of the country. I’d been out of the country for around 240 days in five years, but only 81 of those days were not Annual Paid Leave. I pointed to the guidance notes and showed where it clearly stated that absences from of the country consistent with Annual Paid Leave may be disregarded, but she didn’t seem to believe me. After she went and discussed the absences with her supervisor, she returned and told me that everything was fine and that I would be granted the visa.

So I just had to wait another 10 minutes for them to put the visa in my passport and then I was out of there, thank god! I never had to show all the bank statements I had prepared, nor anything over a year old, the checking was overall a lot less thorough than I expected.

EDIT: A bit of further information for people who have googled this story, I came to UK on 19 April 2006 on Working Holiday, changed on 23 October 2006 to Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP) – you were allowed to switch while in the UK at that time. 13 October 2008 I renewed my visa under Tier 1 (General) for three years and on 26 September 2011 I applied for Indefinite Leave To Remain. I was not subject to the Life In The UK Test because my five-year period started before 7 November 2006, nor was I subjected to do the points assessment again for the same reason.

Chances of me getting hit by satellite debris are 1 in 3200? Ummm… wrong

September 23, 2011 3pm in News Stories | Comments (1)

I haven’t been updating my blog for a while, but I came across this story in the NZ Herald and had to vent my frustration.

This quote in particular annoys me:

Experts say there is a one-in-3200 risk of the six-ton space junk hitting someone – considerably greater than the chances of winning Lotto, at just one in 3.8 million.

Now… that is a totally inaccurate and misleading comparison. The 1-in-3200 chance refers to the chance of *anyone in the world* getting hit by debris. The 1-in-3,800,000 chance of winning lotto refers to the chance of *one person in particular* winning Lotto. The chance of *anyone in the world* winning Lotto (which would be a fair comparison) is actually extremely high!

To put it a different way, to calculate the chances of *me personally* getting hit by debris, I have to multiply 3200 by the population of the world, which was about six billion last time I checked, so the chances of me personally getting hit by debris is 1-in-19,200,000,000,000. The chances of me personally winning Lotto is, as the article stated, 1-in-3,800,000. Therefore I am much more likely to win Lotto than to get hit by space debris.

But as they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story, right NZ Herald journalists?

Here’s another quote from that article:

…though given more than three-quarters of the earth is covered in water, NASA is expecting a splash-down, rather than a smack-down.

Wow, so it took a NASA scientist to work out that because more than 75% of the earth is water, it’s more likely to land in water than land? AMAZING! Well done, NASA!

Seriously, who writes this stuff?

Spain and Portugal for Easter

May 31, 2011 10am in Random Ramblings | Comments (2)

I just realised that I wrote this on 27 April, but never published it because I was waiting for photos. But since I’ll probably never get around to the photos, here it is.

My birthday was during the easter long weekend this year, so rather than sit and hide in the corner like I do most years, I decided to go with Pablo to Spain and Portugal. The weather was forecast to be heavy thunderstorms in both places, and London was having unseasonably warm weather, so that wasn’t a good start.

Friday 22 April

I was working on Friday morning after waking up at 6am, and at 2pm we left the house to catch the bus to Liverpool St station to catch the train to London’s Stansted airport.

We were flying RyanAir who I don’t like at all. Normally they’re the cheapest airline and it shows, but because we booked with only three days in advance we paid £275 each for tickets. Since RyanAir had the best timetable we flew with them anyway. RyanAir used to charge fees for checking in at the airport (as opposed to checking in online), but then used to forbid anybody without a European passport to check in online, so non-EU citizens had no way of avoiding this charge. I always considered this to be illegal (as it’s the law to include all taxes and unavoidable fees in the advertised price) so I never flew with RyanAir on principle. But I see they’ve changed that now – now they charge you to check in online AND at the airport! Still, at least they’re more upfront about it now, and include that fee in the online price. Non-EU citizens still have to have their passport checked at the “bag drop / visa desk counter”.

At Stansted, we queued for about 20 minutes with all the people dropping off bags so that we could get our passports checked. Then, we queued at security and queued again in the massive line at the gate. No problems there though, that’s RyanAir, and expected. I actually thought to myself “wow RyanAir, no more hidden charges, and reasonably efficient service – you’ve redeemed yourself”.

During the queueing at the gate, I mentioned to Pablo “I hope we get on soon, because with RyanAir there’s no allocated seats, and once the seats fill up, you have to stand in the aisles and small children have to go in the overhead bins”. The guy in front of us overheard this, and said with a worried look on his face “is that TRUE?” to which I said rather sheepishly “um, no, it’s not”. Then the woman in front of him burst out laughing which made me start giggling too. The guy who asked the question looked very embarrassed. Maybe there are certain times and places where joking is not acceptable :)

We arrived on time, and picked up a car from Sevilla. Eek – no GPS – I’d ordered one on Alamo’s website but apparently this location doesn’t stock them. This should be fun!

We drove it to a hotel outside of Jerez de la Frontera, called La Cueva Park. The drive was through heavy pouring rain – looks like the forecasts were accurate. We were starving, but I was hesitant to stop for food since it was already 10:30pm and I didn’t want reception to close – this hotel was out of the city so I figured it was some obscure little hotel which was not open 24 hours.

But when we saw a motorway services, we pulled off. This wasn’t anything like motorway services in England, which are bigger than some small towns… this was a small petrol station and a tiny little shack which looked like it had a leaky roof. Inside the small shack were 7 or 8 different types of meats, and there was a selection of drinks, and that was it. There didn’t even seem to be any rice, or any dishes that went with the meats! Pablo speaks fluent Spanish, and even he couldn’t work it out. So we just had juice and kept driving.

When we arrived at the hotel we were surprised to see it was very big with a traditional Spanish feel to it! (Oops – I just reread what I typed, and it originally said that it had a “traditional Spanish eel”. Luckily I noticed that error.)

We went to the hotel’s restaurant, who pointed out that we were quite late (they weren’t wrong, it was 11:20pm by that time). Again we were presented with what seemed to be nothing but meat on the menu. Perhaps that’s what they do here? Maybe I’d have to just eat the free bread that was given to us.

I ordered the Spanish omelette which actually was very nice. When we finished, they’d charged me €12 instead of €10 for the omelette (trust me to notice that) and it turns out that the bread they put on the table wasn’t free after all, it was actually €3.60. Oops. €3.60 for stale bread! What a scam! :-D

Saturday 23 April

I woke up to lots of banging – the walls in this hotel are paper thin. You could hear every noise from what seemed to be the entire floor and also you could hear the racetrack across the road. This wasn’t such a bad thing – we shouldn’t be sleeping anyway.

I opened up the room’s windows, dreading what weather I might see, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – unbelievable given the forecast. We drove to Cadiz, a place I had been four years ago which I remembered having a really nice beach. Spent more than two hours lying on the beach, which is of course what holidays are all about. I’d hoped to find bars on the beach, but they were closed – I think they only open for special events. Or maybe it was something to do with the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to drink before 11:30am. Bah.

We also went to a shopping centre in nearby San Fernando which was absolutely heaving. I bought two childrens’ books in Spanish and Pablo got his hair cut. We experienced slow service at the restaurant there, but it had a spectacular view (of both the harbour and the desserts) so it wasn’t a problem. I had a four cheese pizza for lunch and the biggest icecream sundae known to man for dessert. Yum.

We did some driving around the centre of Cadiz. There were people lining up along the streets for what we assumed was an Easter procession but we didn’t stay to watch it.

Sunday 24 April

Lots of driving today – we were driving from the hotel to Faro in the southern region of Portugal known as Algarve. But we couldn’t leave the hotel without a dip in the pool first.

Actually, the pool was too cold for me, despite another day of absolutely amazing weather. So I just took photos.

The drive was quite uneventful. Clear signs on the road made it easy to find the way there.

Once we got to Faro, it seemed quite rundown, and since we had no GPS for the car, we drove around blindly until we found some water – I knew that the hotel was called Hotel Eva and that it was by the water. After 20 minutes of random driving, I pulled into the first available carpark I could find to check the directions on the hotel reservation.

Pablo went off to ask someone for directions, but he either didn’t tell me or I didn’t hear him, so I looked up at one point and he was gone… I suddenly realised that I was in a scary area where I spoke no Portuguese and not knowing where Pablo had gone. It was a bit worrying.

A couple of minutes later I realised that we had actually parked literally right outside our hotel by sheer coincidence. In an area of some 45,000 people, that’s not too shabby. So once Pablo returned, we went in and checked in.

The hotel was not bad, we didn’t get a view of the marina and the whole floor smelled like strong mens’ aftershave, but it was nice, and very central.

We went for a walk around the area and found that Faro has a small central area which is enclosed within a wall, it was very quiet and seemingly untouched by modern life.

Being Easter Sunday, almost everything was closed, except for a few resturants. I sat by a photo of someone who some might know I’m rather a fan of.

At a restaurant, it was all seafood, except for one chicken dish which I got. We also got bread and olives given to us – I’m starting to see a pattern with the restaurants here. Although I ate the bread because I was so incredibly hungry, and this time it wasn’t stale. I wonder if you can refuse bread and olives which are automatically brought out, and if you do, will they be offended?

We sat outside in the sun, and then we had to move because the sun got too strong, so we moved under the umbrella a bit. Then, we had to move again, because it started raining. After a while we realised that it was 4pm and we were the only ones there, in fact, they were starting to close up shop around us.

Back to the hotel to nap for a bit. We ended up sleeping for about 4 hours, it was 9pm when we woke up again.

We went for a walk around the area, but it didn’t look like there was much to see. At least the rain had stopped. I’d heard that Faro is one of those places where cheap Britons go on holiday because it has an airport where RyanAir fly to – so that must mean there is nightlife somewhere.

Purely by accident at around 10pm we stumbled upon some people setting up a stage in a square surrounded by a number of bars. I’d forgotten that in Spain, nightlife does not really begin until 11:30pm and Portugal was probably no different. So we had cocktails in nearby Cafe Bar Upa Upa. We stayed there quite a while, and slowly but surely the square started to fill up with people.

When the band started there were a lot of people around, and we’d had a few cocktails. The waitress asked us if the cocktails were strong enough. Mine were okay but for some reason Pablo’s were quite weak and he told them so. So for the next drink, they asked Pablo to make up a cocktail and he did… it ended up being called “the Pablo” and it was very strong. I can’t remember what was in it (in fact I can’t remember much after we started drinking those) but I know it had a lot of tequila.

Monday 25 April

We stumbled back to the hotel at about 1:30am, I think, and I woke up with quite a hangover. But the free buffet breakfast on the top floor of the hotel made up for that. There was a great view from up there, and it was another glorious day.

We checked out of the hotel before midday, and our flight back to Seville was at 9:15pm. So, first we went to Faro beach which was near the airport. We saw this great roundabout with giant people looking up at the planes. I loved these people.

Faro beach was one of those beaches where the sand goes down at quite an angle, so the water got deep very fast. Lots of people were around and the parking was free. But there were lots of little towns along the southern coast of Portugal so we drove back through them on the way back to Sevilla airport.

We arrived at Sevilla airport at 7:55pm, which for a 9:15pm flight I thought was okay, but perhaps cutting it a bit close. Oh wait… this is RyanAir we’re talking about, so we’d better get a move on.

First thing was to follow the instructions on the boarding pass – the “you must get your boarding pass stamped at the bag drop / visa check desk” it said. So, we stood for half an hour in the bag drop line, just as we had done in Stansted. However this time, once we finally got to the front of the queue that we had been waiting all that time in the wrong place. “You need to go to the office over there” she said. “But it says here that we must go to the bag drop – is this not the bag drop?” I said, and pointed to those exact words on the boarding pass. She was having none of it.

So, begrudgingly, we went and stood in the other queue. By this time it was 8:30pm and the gate closed at 8:45pm. This time, the queue was not long, but there was only one woman serving, and she looked very stressed out. She was on the phone helping a customer and the queue wasn’t moving anywhere. Lots of very anxious-looking people started to form behind us, who were presumably waiting for the same thing.

I started getting very edgy at this point, and so were lots of other people – they were queue jumping and going straight to the window to try and get stamps. It got to the point where Pablo and I positioned ourselves and our bags so that nobody could get past until we were served.

After clearing security, we got to the gate at about 8:42pm, and we saw a tremendous line. It turned out that everyone had to go through outgoing passport control, and it seemed like there were no agents at the passport desks. We weren’t too worried because we had it confirmed to us twice that this was the queue for Stansted, and so at least we were as close as possible to the gate.

However again, this is RyanAir we are talking about, who play by their own rules, and who were reported in the media as having refused people from their flights for being late after whatever airport it was had been evacuated after a fire alarm.

And lo and behold, who should join us in the line but the guy we talked to in the line at Stansted – the one who asked me if it were true that you had to stand in the aisles. He was very very nervous, and kept asking me questions that I had no way of knowing – such as “what do you think the chances are of us making this flight” and “why is the line not moving”? It was quite a stressful time. But everyone did get on the flight in the end.

On the flight, people had landing cards (required by non-EU citizens). Nobody had offered me one, so I pressed the call button and asked for one. “Later!” I was told sharply. When later arrived, they started handing them out but then they ran out of cards and I didn’t get one.

Normally I’d say that you get what you pay for so I can’t complain, but we’d paid a lot for our tickets – probably more than 90% of the people onboard and so I wasn’t happy. They know how many people are onboard, and they know their nationalities, so how can they run out of landing cards? When I got to Stansted, I was sure to pick up a whole pile of landing cards so the same thing doesn’t happen again, and also I made the usual “I’ll never fly with RyanAir again” promises which I’ll no doubt break when I realise how much cheaper they are than everyone else. But I realised that my idea of “RyanAir – you’ve redeemed yourself” was shortlived. They’re still as ghastly as ever. And we were half an hour late getting back.

Arrived in London at 11:20pm, through customs by 11:40pm, on the 11:45pm train back to London and on the 12:35pm bus back to my house! And then, only 7 hours before back to work – joy.

But, it wasn’t long before the awfulness of the return flight faded, and I was left with really great memories from a wonderful holiday.

Big fan of Take Me Out =X

April 30, 2011 8pm in TV | Comments (2)

I’m a very big fan of the UK version of Take Me Out (the Australian equivalent “Taken Out” is booorrringgggg). I’ve seen each of the 22 episodes at least three times, I think it’s funny and the host Paddy McGuiness is hilarious. No likey, no lighty!

The way it works is that a guy is brought out in front of thirty girls, each of the girls is behind a podium with a light on, and if they don’t like the guy, they turn their light out. After we see a video of the guy in his daily life, and a demonstration of a “special talent”, if any of the girls still has her light on, the guy picks one and they go on a date to the “Isle of Fernandos”, in Tenerife, Spain.

I was at Waterloo station on Wednesday, and I was standing on the platform for ages because there were severe delays. And I saw what I thought was a familiar face. It didn’t take me long to work out that it was John from Bournemouth, from Take Me Out’s very last episode (season 2 episode 14). This guy:

John from Take Me Out

I really wanted to go and talk to him and I’d had a few drinks so that helped. I did go over and had a chat – I figure that anybody that’s been on TV is fair game to talk to in public places.

He said that he got noticed a lot at first when the show aired (which was around February sometime) but it’s died down a bit now. We talked about his date with Holly, he seemed genuinely surprised that I could remember the name of the girl he went on a date with (like I said, I’m a BIG fan). He was a really nice guy.

His special talent was making noises to the Blue Danube orchestral piece, specifically armpit noises, and noises from other parts of his body – it was very bizarre. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but if he wasn’t the penultimate guy of the entire series, I’m not so sure that he would have gotten a date :)

John from Take Me Out - armpit noises

I’m happy because I haven’t seen anybody off the TV for a long time, and not sure I’ve ever talked to anyone off TV!

Cotall St squatters part II – gone

April 30, 2011 8pm in Tower Hamlets | Comments (2)

I haven’t been past Cotall St since I wrote this post – the most commented on post on my blog by far, that was over 18 months ago. But I went past there last week… and everything’s gone.

Site of former Cotall St squatters

Commercial Road – a bit dangerous perhaps?

April 30, 2011 8pm in Tower Hamlets | Comments (2)

I’ve just moved to Commercial Road. I haven’t been here long, but already I’ve seen two “incidents”! The first one was a guy getting arrested right out Limehouse Station, which is very close to my house. It’s not clear what it was for, but I took a photo with my phone, which doesn’t have the highest resolution – but you can click the photo to see more.

Guy getting arrested outside Limehouse Station

Then, a week later, I went to the Costcutter which is on the next block, and it was sealed off. The cashier in there had blood running all down his face, it was like he’d been hit with a bottle. I didn’t take a photo of him directly, the police were telling people to go away.

Costcutter Commercial Road cordoned off

Luckily I don’t spend much time on Commercial Road – it’s all Chicken places and dodgy restaurants (actually, the New Garden Thai is really nice). But still a bit scary. I make sure my door is locked at night. The area north of Commercial Road is Stepney – I’ve mentioned the area before in this post. I live in an area called Ratcliffe… bordering Stepney.

I’ve waited more than five years to get these pictures…

April 29, 2011 11pm in Random Ramblings | Comments (1)

At last!

The queen heading to Westminster Abbey for the Royal Wedding


William and Kate's wedding


More to come…

Both my blog and old mail account have been hacked!

April 2, 2011 3pm in Yes, I'm a geek. | Comments (2)

First off, sorry to those of you who have known me since 2005 and still use the same email address as back then. You might have received spam from me from my old Yahoo email account. Most of it seemed to have consisted of just a link to some site.

I know because I got lots of “undeliverable emails” for emails that I’d never sent, and they were all to people in my Yahoo contacts, so someone somewhere got my Yahoo contact list. Luckily, it’s a very old email account of mine and I stopped using the contact list around 2005.

I’m not sure how it happened, whether it was someone “brute force” guessing my password (trying all possible passwords using a computer program), but I think it was more likely to be Open ID. I signed up to stackexchange.com to ask about some programming questions, and to do that, rather than use a new user account, I used Open ID to save time, and used my Yahoo ID as my Open ID. I had to give my Yahoo password to this site.

Now, this site may have passed my password on to another site, or they may have logged onto my Yahoo mail after I gave them my password. I have no proof of this, but I’ve had this email address for over 10 years without a problem and it seems a bit of a coincidence that less than a week after I sign up to Open ID, my account is compromised.

So, when I log onto my blog to blog about this, I see that my most recent post has been marked as private, and someone’s put ads all over it! Uhoh, I thought, this is not good. So I looked further, and it showed a revision by someone called pandona. So I looked at my WordPress users, and this user had administration rights, meaning that they could do anything they wanted! Ouch!!!

And, to make things worse, they’d set it so that anyone that signs up to my blog automatically gets administrator rights! Fortunately, he or she also had the decency to disable user signups – if they didn’t, anyone could have done anything. This user also changed my time zone to the middle east, and changed a couple of other settings.

I have no idea how they did this, but since my WordPress version is two years old they probably used some obscure vulnerability which is freely available on the web. So, I’ve upgraded my wordpress to the most recent version, and changed the password on both my Yahoo email and my blog. Hopefully that will be the end of my problems!

Back to Tower Hamlets

March 26, 2011 7pm in Random Ramblings,Tower Hamlets | Comments (0)

So after my big bout of travelling last year, I went back to my old job at UBS for three months, but I’d given up my flat to go travelling, so I had to move somewhere else, and since I’m now a contractor I can’t commit to living in a rented place for longer than 6 months.

So I moved south of the river, gasp!!!! To the borough of Southwark. People say there’s a big divide between North and South London and now I think I see what they mean.

But this month I moved back to the north side of the river, back into Tower Hamlets! And it feels like home again. I can walk to work again, which is great, and all the roads and pathways are familiar again. And people aren’t as loud north of the river. Everyone in South London is very loud.

No coeliac disease

March 26, 2011 6pm in Family,Health and Fitness | Comments (5)

Well, I hadn’t actually posted on here but it was talked about on my Mum’s blog that I had gone to St Thomas’ Hospital to check for Coeliac Disease, since my Mum was diagnosed with it last year and it is hereditary. I had my first blood test in December which was inconclusive so I went to the hospital for a gastroscopy in early February.

But lucky for me, yesterday I learned the news that although I do carry the genes for it, I’m not suffering from the disease and won’t suffer it in my lifetime. But because I’m a “carrier” my descendants may have it.

Still, that’s very good news for me. Sometimes I feel like I should have had it and my Mum should not, because she is the foodie in the family and I think it is much more of a big deal for her than it would have been for me. But, I guess you can only play the hand you’re given, as they say.