The International Steam Pages

Bordering on the Ridiculous, 2012

For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:

This page is just one of several describing aspects of our '2012 new life', for earlier and later pages use the West Gloucestershire link above.

Successive UK governments have competed in a race to the bottom in terms of pandering to the prejudices of large parts of the UK population when it comes to matters of (race and) immigration. With EU citizens automatically admitted and able to work, the scope for further reducing the flow of immigrants is now greatly reduced. Despite the fact that British universities are considered very attractive to overseas students who push large sums of money into the economy, the fact that a small minority abuse the system and don't go home when they finish, changes (I hesitate to call them reforms) have made it more difficult for those who in any case would only be temporary immigrants. The other target has been foreign spouses whereby anyone wanting to 'import' their partner now has to jump through more and more hoops at ever greater expense including having quite a lot of money either in the bank or as income.

The arm of the government charged with administering the system is known as the UK Border Agency and currently the UKBA is a public laughing stock, unfit for purpose and plainly incapable of organising a 'piss up in a brewery'. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants have vanished into thin air within the country and visitors and UK citizens have been forced to wait inordinate lengths of time at airports before entering the country. Those who do make legitimate application to stay and particularly extend their stay can expect to wait months while their application is processed.

As readers of these pages know, I have a foreign wife and I watch these antics with rather less hilarity than most, I have to work within the system to take Yuehong through the various stages so she can live permanently in the UK. Until relatively recently, the fact that we had been married for over 5 years, we had demonstrably lived together all that time and were more than capable of supporting ourselves without sponging off the state would have seen her get immediate indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Now, before leaving China, she had also first needed to demonstrate her competence in English before they would deign to let her into the country for a limited period (not difficult as she has a degree in English from a Chinese university). And once here there is the small matter of the 'Life in the UK' test which has to be passed before indefinite leave to remain is granted.

Of course, the whole purpose of these changes is to prevent arranged marriages involving illiterate peasants, but for the sake of doing this we now had yet another expensive hurdle to jump. For the last year, Yuehong has periodically picked up a not so slim volume which might have been entitled 'Everything you ever wanted to know about the UK, but never dared to ask'. It alternates rapidly between irrelevant trivia and useful information and it has frequently been stated that the average Briton would stand no chance of passing the exam based on it. Certainly it is probably important for an immigrant to know that a woman can divorce her husband, arguably it is not important to know that has not always been the case and definitely it matters not a jot exactly when things changed as it was, I believe, over a hundred years ago.

Anyway, Yuehong was required to present herself at one of the 5 nearest test centres and answer just 24 computer generated questions. Getting 75% right constitutes a pass and is also taken to indicate a certain competence in the English language. If they had such a system for school examinations which relied entirely on knowledge as opposed to any kind of application or reasoning then it would have been denounced as being shallow and inappropriate in the 21st century, but who cares?

The big day came and we had to trek to Swindon as there are obviously not enough needful foreigners in our area. Yuehong was confident but not over so.

Typically, when we booked the test, the centre's information page on the site of the agency that supervises the tests said that they were available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday - when we came to book in fact we were offered a choice of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday! The address for and directions to the centre were accurate but the 'helpful' Google map actually showed it being in an entirely different part of town... Another triumph for the UKBA!

Fortunately, the day return on the train from Gloucester to Swindon was not too extortionate and the best thing about our destination is that it was two minutes walk from a Wetherspoon's pub with cheap real ale. So I relaxed with a pint of Exmoor Gold and when the lady appeared with a smile on her face I had a second one and she had a celebratory half. That's one more thing ticked off, total cost including books, test and travel about GBP 100.... Cheap compared to the actual visa fee of course. 

Back home, the temptation was to put the book to a more practical use for cooking the dinner on the chimenea.

It got a stay of execution as it may yet be needed for young Yiran, but by the time he is ready then there will be a British history section in the test. "Hastings, Domesday, First Crusade..." stuff, it would actually have all been very interesting to Yuehong but I suspect that most newcomers to the UK will have more pressing needs in terms of settling in. Actually, what the current (untested) section in the book shows is just how much a mixture we supposedly racially pure white Britons are and how much today's UK has been shaped by people who came from afar. Not only did I have an 'English' father and a 'Scottish' mother, but mixed in their family tree are people from Ireland, France and Scandinavia... Anybody who has studied even the most elementary biology course should know that genetic variation leads to improvement in the stock and that inbreeding tends to produce undesirable results, but of course few politicians have either a decent scientific background or any principles.

To end on a far more positive note, here are just a few of Yuehong's 30 odd roses including a two for the price of one climber at the end. There will be a fuller garden coverage at some later date when the rain stops and the sun shines for more than a few hours in any week.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson