The trip to Dover was a success -- the child bride and I are no longer filthy foreign scum who are here illegally to leech off the goodwill of the British people.
We are still filthy foreign scum who are here to leech off the goodwill of the British people, but we are now here legally.
For those of you entering the theatre a bit late, while you find your seats I will fill you in on the fact that Rachel and I had spent several hundred dollars getting a piece of paper glued into our passports, but the visa wasn't actually valid. It was missing an all-important stamp from an immigration official.
Our visas were issued to run from 1 August 2006 to 31 October 2009. In the face of that time window, three weeks aren't (or should I say "isn't," since I'm referring to it in the singular?) really all that much. We could have stayed in the United States until the visa actually started and we would have saved a load of time and frustration. But I was eager and impatient to move to Britain and out of my parents' house and -- as Dr. Sara Handy likes to point out -- I don't think. So, we got here on 12 July.
That meant that we were here on a general tourist visa; issued automatically to any American with a passport. Tourist status is good for six months and does not allow me (or, more importantly, the child bride) to work, so as soon as 1 August rolled around, I was keen to change my status and make use of my proper student visa.
When I got my visa in Chicago a few months ago, I mentioned this little visa-switching plan to the woman who had issued the document and she said it would be no problem. All I had to do, she explained, was leave the country and come back.
"Day-trip to France on the ferry, that sort of thing," she said.
Just as I would have saved myself a load of trouble if I had simply waited until 1 August, I would have saved myself half my trouble if I had followed the woman's suggestion to the letter. Instead, because I like Ireland more than France (Je suis désolé, France), I went to Rosslare. That turned out poorly; apparently no one has alerted British immigration to the fact that Ireland is a different country. So, no stamp was issued.
And that brings us to Friday, when the child bride and I set out from London to the coastal town of Dover. Famous for its white cliffs, Dover is also home to an enormous and bustling ferry port that sees more than 60,000 travellers a day. It took just shy of two hours to get there by train.
After a short bus ride from the train station to the ferry port, we handed over £12 and were soon on a shuttle to the ferry. Very strangely, we went through French immigration control whilst still on English soil, which I thought sort of defeated the point of then getting on a boat and spending 1.5 hours sailing to actual France.
"That's the way governments work, love," explained the British immigration officer who was very strangely to be found on French soil. "Whatever's the most difficult; that's the way we do it."
As soon as we had gotten off the ferry and been deposited in the Calais terminal, Rachel and I were on our way back onto the same ferry. In total, we probably spent 15 minutes on French soil. Most of that time was spent talking to the very friendly British immigration lady who was fascinated with my learning Welsh and wanted to tell me all about Ivor the Engine.
I have never seen the programme, so I can't speak to the accuracy of her description of the show, but I have to say that Donal's account of the show a few months ago* was more interesting.
Anyway, she put a stamp on the piece of paper in our passports, thus giving us legal status in the UK for the next three years. The child bride and I are legal. It was all sort of anticlimactic.
Then we had to spend another four hours travelling to London, where we ate dinner with Chris, who had been drinking for three hours but was still more lucid than I am on my best days.
*Blimey, that was a while ago. I need to get to Dublin.