Sunday, 26 May 2013

Where’s “Wally” and a pass

It was a 5.00am start to the day, even at that time it was light.  We ate a light breakfast anticipating the drive and full day ahead.  The car from Enterprise had been collected yesterday evening and parked reasonably close to the canal in a quiet area.  Last night the car gps had been programmed with the location of the nearest car park to our destination and we had pre-packed our day bags.  Although my appointment was at 1.30pm we left early allowing time for possible delays en-route.  The destination was Hounslow, near Heathrow and the gps calculated it would take 1¾ hours.  The route was fairly straightforward going down the M1 onto the M25 and then briefly east on the M4 before hitting the suburbs.  Allowing additional time for delays proved to be a good judgement call as there had been a major incident on the M25 with a caravan rolling over and blocking two south bound lanes of traffic.

By the time we reached our destination Jan’s legs and eyes were crossed.  We hobbled down to the High Street looking (unsuccessfully) for public conveniences.  Nothing in the Bus Station and then we saw ASDA.  Unfortunately nothing in there either.  Then I noticed in the distance the “Golden Arches” who always have customer toilets.  Jan wasn’t convinced, but in the end I was right as usual

First impressions of Hounslow were “We’re in Little India!”  The sights, smells, shops and people all evoked memories of our time in Serangoon, Singapore.  It became a case of “Spot Wally”?  All the Europeans appeared to be Polish.  I’m not sure if they are moving into the area taking over from the Indians or the Indians are moving the Poles out?  However, it appeared WE were “Wally”!  Jan can remember her grandmother taking her to the shops in Hounslow and it looked nothing like it does today!

Now wanting to risk a problem with the lower half of the elementary canal on our return journey we elected to play it safe and eat in the Golden Arches.  Their food may be tasteless cardboard…. but at least you can be sure it will be consistently tasteless cardboard and the standard of hygiene is usually high.  Looking at the patrons I noticed the Indians tucking into the Big Mac’s and chips. “Hey….. don’t you guys know the beef patties are made from cows!”  Then I noticed the guys in their “Dishdasha’s” also eating the Big Mac’s.  “Guys…. the beef patties in your Big Mac’s are not Halal!”   Hang on….. remember I’m the Wally here! 

We wandered back around to the testing centre arriving 40 minutes early for my appointment.  Jan said her goodbye’s and abandoned me.  On entering the small reception area I immediately noticed all the staff were ethnically Indian.  I don’t know why that surprised me.  The whole suburb is Indian and why would your average Anglo-Saxon Brit be going to a centre where they conduct “Life in the UK” tests.  The lady at reception wanted my passport and a document showing ‘proof of address’.  Readers may recall a post code is mandatory when making a booking for the test.  We used the address of an old family friend from Jan’s side of the family.  She lives near Heathrow and using her post code required me to sit the test at the nearest testing centre, which is in Serangoon  Little India Hounslow.  The ‘proof of address’ document had to have my name on it and the address used when the booking was made.  It could be a council or utilities bill (we don’t have either) or an original bank statement.  We have a paperless internet bank account.  However had Jan previously managed to change our address via the internet and requested a paper statement.  This is the document I submitted as ‘proof of address’.  My passport was taken and then I was questioned about information it contained (full name, dob, etc).  Having satisfied herself I was the owner of the passport I was taken to an other office where she and a second lady questioned me again.  I was required to give my full name, dob, and nationality.  Having dual nationality, I got the latter wrong stating “New Zealand” whereas the passport shows “Australian” (because I was using my Australian passport).  I was able to explain the anomaly, although I could tell they had become suspicious.  However I correctly answered the location and country of birth questions.  One of the lady’s was holding my bank statement and asked me to tell her the post code of the address on the bank statement.  Bloody Hell….. I couldn’t remember it!  I could remember the remainder of the address apart from the post code!  The lady then informed me if I couldn’t tell her the post code I wouldn’t be allowed to sit the test and I’d forfeit the £50 fee.  My explanation was that I lived on a boat and the address was only used to receive mail which was forwarded on to us.  She wasn’t convinced, however the second lady asked me to state any other line on the address.  That part was easy and eventually they decided to allow me to take the test.  I was given a number and taken upstairs to a small room where I waited 30 minutes until the test appointment time.  During this period a young male of Indian appearance arrived and then a young Asian lady also entered the room.  All this waiting time presented me with an opportunity to do a final quick scan through the “Life in the UK” handbook.  On reaching into my pocket for my glasses I discovered there was a problem.  The frame had bent!  I quickly straightened the frame before putting them on, only to discover my vision was now blurred.  Off with the specs and some more twisting!  Still no improvement with the vision.  I should mention my near vision isn’t very good these days, hence the need for spectacles.  It’s a magnification issue.  I started with 1.25X twenty years ago and now need 2x specs.  All obtained from the 99p shop.  I’ve also lost my focal vision in my left eye after a BRVO six years ago.  Anyway, my stress level was starting to rise contemplating the thought of doing the test with a dodgy set of specs.  A late idea was to clean the lenses with the end of my Tshirt.  That’s when I discovered the reason for the blurred vision.  My finger went straight through the right lens hole.  The plastic lens had fallen out of the right frame (my good eye)!  I found the plastic lens in the bottom of my trouser pocket and managed to squeeze it back into the frame without further damaging the spectacles. <phew!> 

At 1.30pm we were taken to the adjacent room where there were computer terminals.  The conditions under which the test would be conducted were explained and we were required to turn off our mobile phones.  One of the lady’s told us if we needed to hear the test questions rather than read then on the screen we must use the supplied headphones.  She explained some people had previously been caught using ‘bluetooth’ headphones connected to their mobile phones to obtain answers to the questions.  From all the questioning of my identity it would appear there have been numerous attempts to have someone else sit the test on behalf of the applicant.

The Test

It consists of 24 questions taken from a list of 401.  Each person has a different set of questions so it’s not good sneaking a look at your neighbours screen. Smile  One hour is allowed to complete the test.  In order to successfully pass the test 18 of the 24 questions must be answered correctly.  It took me six minutes to answer the 24 questions.  I’d probably have been quicker but two questions had me stumped momentarily lost for an answer.  The first related to women in employment.  In the UK, do approximately ¼ of women make up the workforce OR is it approximately ½ of all women?  The second question I know I got wrong.  The Turner prize is awarded for, Literature, Contemporary Art, Art, Theatre, Film.  Don’t know the answer?  Neither did I… and guessed wrong!  Only last week I wrote a blog post about Sir Frank Whittle and the jet engine.  One of the questions was “What did Frank Whittle invent?”.  Another easy question was “The Six Nations Tournament involves which sport?”. 

After finishing the test I was taken back downstairs to yet another office where I again handed over my passport and was again questioned to confirm I was the owner of the passport.  Then I was informed I had passed the test and a certificate was issued to me.  I was informed the original of the certificate would have to be submitted to the UKBA along with my visa application and that I must not lose the certificate as a replacement wouldn’t be provided.  If it was “lost” I’d have to re-sit the test (plus pay another £50).

I now have a “Life in the United Kingdom Handbook” for sale.  Usual price is £12, but this one is going for £20 as all the answers have been marked! Smile

A five minute walk back the the car park to be reunited with Jan (briefly contemplated leaving her in Mumbai) and then we were on our way back north.  Four hours of car travel to spend six minutes in front of a computer screen.  All up cost of the test was £140 (booking & travel).

Next task is to start collating all the remaining supporting documents for my visa application which has to be submitted in July. 


Kevin said...

Welcome to the UK Citizen Tom :)

Boatwif said...

Congrats on your pass. Find this whole process fascinating (probably you found it rather more stressful...) We have a son who did similar in 2012 in USA so there are parallels. I know a couple of other people doing / have done the UK entry test so we are familiar with the procedure. Thank you for writing about it in such detail.

Tom and Jan said...

Hi Kevin,
I haven't made it that far.... Yet! Only the prerequisite for applying.

Tom and Jan said...

Hi Sue & Ken,
The test wasn't stressful. Frankly I could have thought of more relevant questions to ask. If there was any stress it was the concern they would find some reason for preventing me from sitting it. I think most western countries now have a similar test.

Dave Smith said...

Well done and congrats...... I AM british but theres a couple of questions I couldnt answer!
I enjoy your blog, and your humour, hope to see you on the cut someday.

Lisa said...

I just asked my husband those two questions, he is a Brit and lived here all his 57 years. He Oh so confidently got both wrong.
Congratulations to you passing, I may buy that book from you for our daughters Kiwi boyfriend!!!!!
What a Lark.

Anonymous said...

Show em your blog as part of the evidence set, anyone who has dealt with what you have deserves immediate citizenship, or you could plum for repatriation because some Brits are money grabbing thieves, choose the former please, I do need to meet up and buy you a pint for staying the course. Let me know when you get close to Fradley or the Nottingham and beeston canal.

Best wishes

Tom and Jan said...

Hi Paul,

I'm sure we will find a solution. Maybe I'll become an illegal immigrant and the UK tax payer can pay my return airfare when I (eventually) hand myself in! :-)

Halfie said...

Well done, Tom. Let's hope that's the hardest bit out of the way. Sorry not to have seen you and Jan at Crick, but I'm sure we'll meet on the cut some time.

Tom and Jan said...


You should have worn a "silly hat" like Marian! But then maybe you'd have been obscured by all the admirers! :-)