Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 347: Entering the future

Seasonally typical cold and rain, a ride down to the Ace Cafe’s ‘Adventure Travel Day’ was probably the final straw. A simple reminder that we only have one life and we’ve absolutely no idea how limited it might be. Petrol heading towards £1.50 per litre .... £25.00 and the Tiger still isn’t full. Back at what I jokingly call ‘home’, I’m sharing space with folks who prove the case in favour of crime and idleness. I called this place ‘temporary’, but it’s time to define ‘temporary’. I need to review my relationship with these brick walls and bars .... Review complete .... it’s time to bugger-off.

I have a plan. Over the last week I’ve taken some guidance on the last rewrite of ‘The Book’. Ignoring friends who will always say that it’s good, the initial feedback from independent sources is a hell of a lot better than I expected. It’s like they were talking about somebody else’s words. It seems that at last I’ve got it about right .... so all I need to do is finish the rewriting and editing. Easier said than written. Concentration is difficult when all of the distractions are negative ..... so it’s time to change the scenery.

First stop is the US Embassy ... or more accurately their website. It makes for satisfying reading. I should qualify for a 6-month tourist visa and even better ...... it’s free. The process seems simple: Telephone for an interview, complete the application form, pop down to Grosvenor Square for the interview and by the end of the week I’ll have the visa stamped in my passport. The plan is to fly over to California in May and then hang-out until September (ish).

I called to make the appointment. It was a strange number .... with a very long introductory message and a full directory of options. One option was missing .... ‘’press 9 if you think that £1.20 per minute is a rip-off’’. After 11 minutes they asked for my credit card details. ‘’Why do you need my credit card details for a free visa?’’ ...... ‘’Because the appointment costs $140’’ is the reply. Maybe it’s time to redefine the word ‘Free’? The website tells me that the current waiting time for visa interviews is 3 days ....... but I must be special .... because I have to wait 13 days. I follow the website link and complete the electronic application form, gather the necessary documents ...... and wait 13 days.

Of course it’s raining. But it’s not a problem. I park the Tiger, store the waterproof suit in the topbox and wander over to Grosvenor Square. Three checkpoints before you enter the embassy. At the first, they inform me that the application form that I completed is the old version, DS157. I ought to have completed DS160. It’s not a problem and with a Disney smile, she sends me down the road to Gould’s Pharmacy where they’ve set up an impromptu internet cafe with a host of smiling helpers and a very busy cashier. It’s a deficit busting £6 for 30 minutes on one of their 12 laptops and an extra £10 for the taking and loading of electronic photos. I would have used my own laptop, but the US Embassy instructions are quite specific .... don’t bring any electronics with you .. no camera, no phone and no laptop. I wait in the queue, behind every person who was ahead of me in the Embassy queue and wait for a laptop to become free. 29 minutes and 13 seconds ... I finish just before my 30 minutes expires .. but the others are not so lucky and are now another £6 poorer. Gould's Pharmacy, 37 North Audley Street W1 must surely be the UK's most profitable chemist ... but for all of the wrong reasons

Back at the Embassy, they don’t like my crash helmet, my motorbike keys, my armoured jacket or my MX boots. Eventually, I walk in half naked and carrying a small pile of ‘Cloakroom Receipts’, but at least I’m in. My number’s called. I hand over my documents and take a seat. It takes a while, but eventually I’m called for the interview. Why? How long? Will you be working? Will you be returning to the UK? It takes about ten minutes but the girl with the smile says ‘Yes’, visa granted. I now have to pay a courier company to deliver the Passport to my home ..... not optional. A free visa, excluding travel costs, has cost me almost $200. It’s actually fair value for money .... but wouldn’t it be a lot nicer if they simply charged $100 for the visa and did everything else above the counter?

Now .... I wait. The US Visa will take 5-7 working days to be issued and then delivered by courier the following day. Hopefully that will be the 9th of March. Any longer and I'm slightly screwed. I’ve got 2 months before I’m due to arrive in California, and I don’t plan on spending those two months in high rental misery. I’ve burned my bridges, given notice on my ‘Room’ and I’m out of here before the 22nd of March. I've arranged a meeting in Abu Dhabi on the 22nd of March and then a provisional appointment with a certain motorcycle factory in Thailand. It's a factory that I was meant to visit last year, but my Thai being a little too limited, I ended up touring a factory making nothing more exciting than electronic ignition units. Anyway ..... if anybody is interested in acquiring the cuteness of a Super-Cub with a classy touch of modernity, then be sure to let me know.

That all sounds very 'Playboy' but it really isn't like that at all. When most people travel they think about 'Holidays' .... and they tend to be expensive. I can’t afford to do it that way, so I don’t. Before I eat or wipe my arse with tissue paper, living in Blighty costs a minimum of £600 per month. That’s approximately 30,000 Thai Baht. A teacher in Thailand is considered to be middle-class and will earn 15,000 Thai Baht per month. I can’t live quite as cheaply as a local .. but I have enough friends out there to make it a lot cheaper ... and more fun .. than staying in England.

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