I’m back in London, working through three months of mail (largely cashmere catalogues and bank statements: a delightful incongruity), drinking cup after cup of coffee to stay awake until the evening (mandatory for overcoming jetlag) and contemplating my cankles. The house is empty, as H has flounced off to the West Country and I don’t know where the other two boys are. Almost all Holiday Objectives have been achieved (you know you’re a workaholic when even your vacations have agendas), as I am tanned, lithe, reasonably fit and dying to get back to work, however dull my job is.
I had intended to stay in the UK until December, but this was on the condition of getting a working holiday visa, or Youth Mobility Visa as they are now termed. It shouldn’t have been difficult: I had a reliable job, enough money in the bank and I hadn’t yet turned 31. However, the application was rejected because the bank statement I sent in, which mum had printed out for me at the bank, lacked an official stamp. You’d think the embassy could have contacted me – after all they had emailed me about my student visa four years before, and it takes two minutes to pick up a phone – but no, they sent it back, and kept their 250AUD application fee for the pleasure of it.
Under ordinary circumstances I would have reapplied, even if this meant forking out an additional $250.00. However, because I turned 31 while they had the application, reapplying was impossible. Instead, I had the statement stamped at the bank, indicating that, at the time I sent it in, the funds were in my account, and appealed the decision. I was also tempted to say that I could probably kickstart the English economy with my shoe, cashmere and handbag proclivities, but instead I argued that the stamp didn’t constitute additional evidence (which wasn’t allowed). Rather, it was a verification of what had been an accurate statement. They didn’t allow this, and maintained that the tiny red stamp, 10mm in diameter, represented additional evidence.
On finding that my application had been rejected, I burst into tears, but then M said that given I was the most relaxed I’d ever been in the last four years, and that I wanted to get my life underway, what was the sense in coming back to London? I recognised she had a point, but it wasn’t until I began working out options and calculating how long I could afford to stay on a holiday visa that I threw down my pen and gave up. I’m sick of being in penury, and of constantly scraping and budgeting, all for so little reward. I’ll be broke back in Australia too, but at least I’ll have sunshine, my family and friends and the outdoors to compensate. I’m tired, too, of constantly saying goodbye, and packing up my things, and never having enough room in my suitcase for all the shoes and frocks I want to wear. I’m fed up with the dreariness of London and its unhappy people; I’m just not designed to flourish there. I need sunlight and space, and as if in evidence of this, most of the poems I’ve written since being back home have been about light.
Also, my detestation of British bureaucracy is reaching hitherto unimaginable proportions, particularly as, when I came through Immigration today, the rejected visa was like a red flag to the Immigration Officer and I was grilled in detail about my intentions in the UK. It seemed that he was trying to trip me up and wasn’t really listening to what I was saying. I didn’t get flustered because my student visa doesn’t expire until the end of April, but it was an unpleasant experience all the same.
More and more it seems to me that England is becoming a dystopia from an Atwood or Ishiguro novel, and although, when I stepped out of the Tube at Tower Hill and waited for the bus, I felt a sense of satisfaction of coming back to a home and a routine, I’m uneasy about staying in a place that treats its inhabitants with such suspicion. I have never felt safe or relaxed in London, and I’m tired of being on my guard, and being so oppressed. So I think that, after four years of unremitting, intellectual and emotional hard work, it’s finally time to go home.