Monthly Archives: September 2007

onward, whirligig

ticktockA weird couple of weeks. As part of the fast-track program at work I got locked in a hotel for 4 days with 30 other folk. We were given tough things to do and learned tech/leadership/presentation stuff and got more confident. As a bonus I met one of my design heroes from the Gang of Four.

Then home to Arbroath to help out as Gran is not well.

Then off to Glasgow for four days.

In 12 hours I fly to JFK. I have two weeks to find somewhere to live that doesn’t involve paying a hefty tithe to Captain Rex the Cockroach King.

On Sunday I am meeting some estate agent types who will drive me to a selection of expensive shoeboxes and try to persuade bagel-chewing landlords I am not a colossal credit risk.

Which leaves just this evening to pack my stuff and undertake a major cull of possessions. I’m growing to love this part now. The mantra is “travel light.”

What’s that? A stack of clothes/trainers/other that have seeming sentimental value, but you haven’t used them in the last 3 months? Travel lightoff to Oxfam they go. A real sense of weight dropping away.

Will try and update from somewhere else.

badoom

fireworkHoly gunpowder! They just sailed a barge laden with sparkly artillery under Tower Bridge and blew a colossal fiery wad through the open pinball flippers. Leaning out of my window I can see the bombs streak glittering into the sky. The popping spark clouds echo through the street like waves drawing down a pebbly beach.

getting a visa the action

US flagToday I tried to become an alien.

Specifically I visited the US Embassy to complete my application for an H1B non-immigrant visa. The key word “Non-immigrant” essentially means, don’t get too comfortable sunshine. The goal of this exercise is to get a magical glowing rune in your passport that says you can work there for three years without terrible consequences involving orange jumpsuits.

Before you get there you have to compose your case. There are forms to fill in, and they are tricksy. The questions are ambiguous, intended to catch people who game their visas or intend to stay long-term. I quickly found that unofficial websites exist solely to offer advice on filling out, say, the piquant DS-156 or the blunt DS-157 (“compulsory for males aged 15-55″). Whole forum threads debate the perils of leaving an answer blank rather than using “none” (“none” is recommended, form fans).

Getting at the embassy is not easy. Roadworks encircle the building in fencing, dust and noise. It’s easy to imagine the hard-hat workers as undercover Mission:Impossible agents, shovelling rubble back and forth, glancing shiftily and waiting for orders to emanate from their self-destructing copy of The Sun.

police lolOutside at the security point, police armed with SMGs stand at intervals. The hopefuls are queued, cradling their papers in a variety of practical wallets and folders. All loose items are stored in a clear plastic bag for scanning. No phones or bags allowed. Thirty minutes go by, a fair chunk of New Scientist. Then through the detector without fuss and into the embassy itself.

A main hall, seated, with refreshments at the back wall. A random mix of people – though predominantly white – are waiting in the rows in states of agitation or boredom. Families, couples, individuals. A recorded voice calls numbers, and people nervously shuffle their folders to the counters immediately alongside. Not so much an interrogation under harsh lights; more a trip to the Post Office.

Another thirty minutes, number 1121 comes up. Forms are handed in, fingerprints collected in one go by a futuristic green-lit reader. All done.

Is that it? No, that’s only the initial check. The interview proper is after another waiting session. Back for a sit down with coffee and a sandwich. Reading is difficult when you have to listen to the announcement every fifteen seconds.

Another hour passes; then “Number 1121 to counter 24, please”. Wander through to the second-stage counters, trying to keep the basic facts of my employment in my head. Smile and don’t look crazy.

A bald, bearded guy about my age; glasses. After all the waiting, four questions in two minutes.

“So you’ve been hired in the US by [big investment bank]?”

“Yes.”

“…and you attended college or university in the UK?”

“Yes, in Aberdeen.”

“What was your course of study?”

“Computer Science.”

“Have you ever been arrested?”

Yikes. Frown, shake head, “No.” Appropriate emphasis.

“OK. There are other Aaron Bells that have.”

Blimey.

“OK Mr Bell your visa is approved, please take your blue form to the courier desk. Have a good day.”

And that’s it. Passport gets delivered back to you in 5 days.

Relief and excitement.

Bean’s guide to Geneva

Geneva isn’t nearly well enough documented for the tourist. But it’s ace.

Start from the very beginning:

My good friend Lauren seems to have crammed in a ridiculous amount of life experience for her comparatively few years on the planet. Last year before going to university, she moved down to Edinburgh to au pair for an affluent Anglo-american-arabic family who lived on Gt. King St. So after a while, she was pretty much adopted by them and spent a lovely year toning her gluteus by pushing prams up and down that big hill in the New Town and learning how to make stuff with chick peas taste nice. Jolly good. Except a few months ago said family decided to up sticks and move to a place called Lucerne, which is sort of north of the centre of lovely Switzerland. Lauren has had a zillion weeks off this summer, so after a packed schedule of fabulous family holidays and social engagements lasting from june-August, she decided to go visit familie zwei who asked her to stay til uni starts in Edinburgh. Now the little shit has a fabulous suntan and about 10,000 air miles under her belt. I on the other hand, hadn’t left the office since March and had aged about 30 years. Time for some sunshine. We decided to meet up in Geneva as Lucerne is small and she’d already seen it and got bored.

Boring stuff/amazing stuff/dangerous stuff/languages

Fly EasyJet from Edinburgh – They make you queue for miles, taking a pee is extra, the hosties look like they’ve been tangoed, but they fly direct from here and you’re there in a jiffy.

Them are mountains – Go during the day and you fly over the alps/Mont blanc. I’d never (consciously) done that before and it was spectacular. The way the serrated ranges partition the cloud into its hundred misty soup bowls was proper nice and made me think of food (£5.10)

Trams will kill you – We met up late at night and went out. We drank fizzy at the hotel. We staggered to the nearest cocktail bar. There’s a reason why something travelling at speed, emitting a monotone past an immediately placed stationary object sounds like a reverse crescendo of varying tones, I saw it on Brainiac, and it has a name but i’ve forgotten it. Lets call it Tony. Tony is fucking TERRIFYING. Lauren yanked me out of the way, I did a cartwheel in the air, lost both my shoes and landed on my head. I now have many scabs on elbows and knees. Pay attention or die, fool.

Don’t try and speak French if you’re a golly – Genevans are polite, lovely people. But much like the other French speaking places i’ve visited, they wince if nouns and numbers are all you got. They’re not going to smile and correct your l’s le’s and lezzies. They’re going to sneer and slowly answer you back in better English than your own, like you’re a gleck.

Cool stuff:

Patek Phillipe museum – Patek are pretty much the best widely known luxury arm-clock maker in the world. Their watches start off at about eight grand and go right up into hundreds of thousands of pounds for the ones that have the most ‘complications’ – ie, most difficult to make. Notably, their pieces don’t go up in price respective to the amount of gold and diamonds they cram on. (unlike Rolex whose ‘expensive’ watches are for chavs.) H&I in Ed sold a Patek tourbillion to someone last year for £150,000, and it didn’t look noticeably different to one at a tenth of the price. Anyhuu, the museum is a horologistic heaven of ticks and tocks and springs and cogs, detailing their history from the 1700′s up until present day. Amazing. I loved it.