Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Fungal Infection

Not the most inviting title to a blog post I know, don't worry this is not about a trip to a sexual disease clinic! This is a fish related post.
Recently one of my fish, a black Molly, started to show signs of a fluffy white growth on its skin. After much browsing of the tinternet the consensus appeared to be quarantine the fish in question as the infection may be contagious. Once quarantined in Guantanamo bowl (new readers should be aware that this is the name given to small supplementary tank purchased for occasions such as this) the fish should be medicated if necessary and returned to the main aquarium once the infection has healed.
This is all sounded quite straightforward, too straightforward. Anyone who in the past has attempted to catch non-specific fish with the aid of a rod and reel will tell you it is easy enough if you have the right bait and the patience. Take away the rod, reel and bait and tell them to get the black one called Gerald with the aid of nothing but a net and let's see how the smug gits get on.
I found that it is quite easy to catch any old fish in a fish tank. Any of the fish that you are not actively pursuing will be curious of about the arrival of a fish net in their midst. Some will swim into the net and set up stalls selling trinkets and concert tickets for their friends. This is not helpful to my cause as I have to wait for the stall to wrap-up for the day before I can continue stalking the unfortunate diseased Molly (it should be pointed out to any serious fish enthusiasts who stumble upon this site that the last two sentences are lies).
It has taken two attempts but the Molly in question now resides in Guantanamo, receiving the best medical care modern science has to offer. I will keep you posted on the little fella's progress.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Getting to America – Part 2

I have not really done very much blogging since Getting to America - Part 1 so here is the second bit.
Anyone, who, like me does not pass the test detailed in the first part, should read on. Anyone who is amused by my startling inability to deal with simple paperwork should also read on.
Anyone else should also read on.
Getting to America – Part 2.
To set the scene…
I had been refused a visa-waiver from the US Government because I cannot, in all honesty answer Yes to all five questions postulated by the on-line visa waiver form. As a result I had to attempt
to contain an actual grown-up real visa from the US Embassy.
There are a number of steps to this process. This can be summarised as follows:
  • Firstly extract your criminal record from CRB at a relatively small cost. For the record, £35 if you are organised or £70 if you need it RIGHT NOW like me. There will be further cost.
  • Secondly, make an appointment at an appropriately located US Embassy and book a Visa appointment. This will cost 113 of your American dollars.
  • Fill out a spectacular number of forms. There will be further costs.
  • Attend your appointment at the appropriately located US Embassy. There will be further costs.
  • Wait, pray, eat fingernails etc. There will be further costs.
Now, you may be wondering what I did to deserve this, which is fair.
I distributed a small quantity of drugs to a bunch of people who wanted them. I did this on a regular basis. End of story. No small South American Republics were destabilised. No Afghan poppy farmers could attribute their contribution to the Taliban to my activities. Pablo Escobar didn't get the opportunity to roll around in a shinier Bentley cos of me.
Get over it; I was a little spoke in a really small wheel…
But, no matter how small I was, and no matter how distant in time the offences that occurred (13 years to be exact!) I still had to suffer the process, and this is how it began.
I had by this time extracted a full copy of my criminal record from the British Criminal Records Bureau. This was almost straight-forward. Fill out a form and provide some proof of who you are. The second bit requires photo-copies of various important documents, passport, driving license, utility bills, that sort of thing. This is fine; however the photocopies should be witnessed by someone who is deemed to be "official". That is someone like a doctor, solicitor, accountant, post office master, butcher, baker, candle-stick maker etc etc. I was also in the progress of remortgaging the house at this point and had already had to do this once. Back I trotted to the not particularly busy village post mistress and had another bunch of documents authenticated. She probably thinks I am smuggling people and providing them with new identities…
This was my first brush with bureaucracy, and not too painful. I understood all the questions on the form (of which there was only one). The documents, along with the all important criminal record were returned to me on time without me having to shout at anyone. This was however, good ole' UK bureaucracy, the best was yet to come.
Back to the plot; my next task was to make an appointment to speak to the US Embassy so my case could be reviewed before my grown-up Visa could be issued. I may have previously alluded to this but just to remind you all, I had left this a teensy bit late. Basically I had approximately five weeks from failing my initial exam to D-Day (flight day) to make this happen. So I phoned for an appointment.
Me: Can I make an appointment to apply for a Visa?
Them: (Nice sounding Irish person): Where would you like to make this appointment?
Me: London.
Them: There are no appointments in London for the next two months. When are you travelling?
Me (sweating): ermm… five weeks.
Them: Then you will need to go to Belfast. We can get you in there two weeks from today.
Me (sweating slightly less): Great, book it.
So, in the event, I had to fly to Ireland to get a Visa to America (anyone well versed with historical migrations to the US will appreciate the irony).
The day of the interview dawned and as I had to be at the Embassy by 10AM I had to be out of bed at the crack of dawn. One bleary-eyed flight across the Irish Sea later and I was in Belfast. This is all too straight-forward!
One little issue… you cannot take anything electronic into the US Embassy, this includes mobile phones. Thought there would be a baggage drop at the airport where I could leave it till my return, well, there wasn't. Arghhh! Spoke to a nice person who informed there was a baggage drop service in Belfast centre, (slightly out of my way!) but in the circumstances would have to suffice.
Next would be a taxi, which should have been simple and it was. Got in taxi, explained my requirements and was promptly asked what time my appointment was. 10am, I replied. You'll not be able to get there in time if you go to the baggage drop place as well. Oh I said. Fluttering my eyelids I asked if he was going back to the airport and if he would look after it for me. After some discussion he agreed to leave it in the taxi drivers "lounge" at the airport on top of the fridge in an envelope with my name on it. Great! So off we went.
I booked my flight which would leave three weeks after the appointment for processing of the forms (this in itself was not a foregone conclusion. For all I knew I would be clamped in irons for the mere temerity of asking to be admitted to the US, after all I had answered No to one of the questions.)
At this point I will round up this log, tune in next time for Getting to America Part 3 – The Interview.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Endtroducing… Smiffy

And so to Smiffy…

It is only fair that when new staff have been recruited to the blog they are accordingly recognised, (especially if they happen to be your wife!).

Smiffy is a whole bunch of lovely, wonderful things to me that I won't bore you with. What, as a regular reader you need to appreciate is what Smiffy contributes to this blog. The process goes a little like this…

Step 1: I write a bunch of stuff and submit to a test site.

Step 2: Smiffy reads and corrects all my amusing attempts at correct GRAMMAR. At this point it should be explained that my use of commas is comparable to US napalm fuelled "deforestation" air raids in Vietnam, that is to say occasionally indiscriminate and often inappropriate. Commas are a big issue for Smiffy. Often COMMAS also get the capital treatment. It should also be explained that the word GRAMMAR can only be pronounced in capitals by Smiffy.

Step 3: I whine and moan about the stupidities of correct GRAMMAR and refuse to make the changes.

Step 4: A husband and wife debate ensues… the changes are made.

Step 5: Finally the Smiffy enhanced version of my scribble gets published and this is what you get to read.

It may sound from the tone of this that I am negative about Smiffy, but that is not true. What I am negative about is being corrected, cos at times I can be a teensy bit arrogant and "unreceptive to constructive criticism" (Smiffy made me write that!). Hopefully you will forgive me and understand me as time flies by.

Most importantly, appreciate Smiffy for what she brings to this blog, as in GRAMMAR and her support. And maybe the best bit is unconditional LOVE (no matter how bad my GRAMMAR is.).

Why Follow?

You may have noticed a little widget on the side-bar of this website labelled followers. If you are new to this as I still am, then you may be wondering what this is all about. Don't worry I did too when I first added it.

Apparently people may visit this site whilst browsing blogs and like what they see. They may then disappear into the ether never to be seen again, like ships passing in the night. I guess it would be really nice if that didn't happen and that is what following is all about. I am in this for the long haul whether my regular existing followers like it or not. It is also worth mentioning that there are other blogs of note out there as well, so learning how following works is a useful thing to understand.

I could explain it myself, (badly), with lots of poorly formatted screenshots that won't fit properly on the page and generally get very irritated. The alternative would be to look for yourself. If you are unsure I suggest you do.

Hopefully you will come back in the future and see what I have been up to, if you choose to follow it just makes it easier, oh and maybe makes me feel a little better.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Getting to America – Part 1

If you are a follower or regular visitor to this site then you will have already seen me espouse upon the loose and wondrous virtues of Las Vegas.

Chronologically this post really should have come first, but never mind. This is a saga of several parts, and I'm not quite sure how many as yet but I am keen to keep it in bite size chunks, so bear with me.
To begin at the beginning, I went to Vegas recently. If you have been to the US before you would have been made aware of something called the Visa Waiver program. The Visa Waiver program used to consist of a green slip of paper handed to you on the plane. There were seven important questions on the green slip of paper. These questions are now on a website. Here they are, along with answers and thought processes involved:
Question A: Do you have a communicable disease, physical or mental disorder, or are you a drug abuser or addict?

Drug abuser or addict is reasonably clear, as is communicable disease I suppose. A clear definition of physical or mental disorder would be really helpful at this point. Anyhow, I took a risk and plumped for No.
Question B: Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
OMG, so many questions in one sentence. I had to look up moral turpitude; simple definition appears to be anything bad that might have involved a conversation with the police. Had a bit of a problem with violations relating to a controlled substance, so I had to click Yes.
Question C: Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved; in any way in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?

Interesting that they would ask if you have ever been involved in espionage, as surely one of the prerequisites of the profession is to never talk about it. As for terrorist activities, if anyone was stupid enough to answer Yes to that then Mr Obama should keep Guantanamo open just for them. For me clearly a No.
Question D: Are you seeking to work in the U.S.; or have you ever been excluded and deported; or have been previously removed from the United States; or procured or attempted to procure a visa or entry into the U.S. by fraud or by misrepresentation?

Erm… No.
Question E: Have you ever detained, retained or withheld custody of a child from a U.S. citizen granted custody of the child?

Again, No.
Question F: Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry into the U.S. or had a U.S. visa cancelled? If yes; when and where?
Well, No.
Question G: Have you ever asserted immunity from prosecution?
No, but I would love to know how, where do I sign?
I clicked to submit and was informed, rather abruptly I thought, that I would not be able to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver program. Well, that's a little unfair, I got six out of seven right, that's about 86%, what sort of exam is this? Apparently it's an exam where you have to score 100% every time.
As a consequence I would have to apply for a proper serious Visa. Unfortunately this involves having a more than significant brush with something I have a little bit of trouble dealing with: Bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy has been defined as "the slowness, the ponderousness, the routine, the complication of procedures and the maladapted responses of the bureaucratic organization." As you will soon learn, dear reader, this is in fact an understatement taken to a whole new level. I may need to invent a new word for it.
Anyhoo I certainly wasn't happy. But, I had no choice. I had to do the dance of the pen-pusher, so like Alice and Keanu Reeves I took the red pill and disappeared down the bureaucratic rabbit hole.
To be continued...