Do you know what the most entertaining thing about this week is? The overwhelming shock-horror reaction to the fact that in the height of midwinter we are having a spell of extremely cold weather.
Combine that with the barely suppressed glee with which people greeted public transport grinding to a halt at the first sign of snow and you get the feeling that actually we British would feel hard done by if the usual things we complain about did not materialise.
Actually I feel hard done by as most people I’ve spoken to today are full of horror stories about their journey home and/or the disasters they had attempting to arrive at work today. My journey last night was so smooth that I caught a half-empty tube home, called Mila to discover she was still in town, travelled back to meet her and then travelled back home again. Or is that showing off?
I think I envy Mila this week, not only is she revelling in weather that is a proper home from home but she is possibly one of the few people in the country who can hear the words “Hutton Report” without grimacing.
I never had a favourite football team. I’m not sure why the whole culture of having a lifelong allegiance to a particular side passed me by. Either it was a childhood indifference to sport as a whole or a lack of any encouragement from parents who were similarly ambivalent.
This only really became an issue when I started working in sports broadcasting. Strangely enough for a non-sports fan most of my career has revolved around the production of football matches but that is at least enough to generate a spark. Hence for several years I worked for a radio station close to a team that was most definitely on the up. During my career there they rose from the second division all the way to the Premiership. I was there with heart on my sleeve they day they won a playoff at Wembley and could hardly bear to look at the match on the final day of the season when anything other than a win would deny them automatic promotion.
Sadly I don’t work there any more and the club are pretty much back where they started. Hardcore football fans will hate me for this but it means I can walk away with a clear conscience.
The whole point of this really is so I have some self-justification for occasionally betting on football matches. Tonight was a case in point. Having to spend the entire evening engineering reports on Aston Villa v Bolton for a radio station was not a prospect that filled me with utter joy. What I needed was a reason to care. One quick trip to the bookmakers website and I had my reason: £10 on Bolton to win 2-0 and a further fiver on a 0-0 draw just to hedge. I figured that there was no way Villa were going to score and that as Bolton did not need to, 0-0 was a likely chance but if Bolton did score they were unlikely to stop at one.
In case you ever try the same thing, never ever mentally start spending the winnings just before kickoff. This is almost certainly why Villa scored within ten minutes, thus wrecking both bets before we had barely begun. At the very least having to engineer a reason to care about a football match is good training for a future career as a bankrupt.
When I embarked on the bold new adventure of being responsible for hosting a foreign visitor to this country for an extended stay, I knew it would bring with it some unusual new experiences. One such experience was introduced to me today and in the great list of “things I have done in life” I can now add:
Becoming incandescent with rage at a public servant.
To explain. People from outside the EU who are staying in this country for an extended period are required to register with the police within seven days of arriving. So it was that Mila and I found ourselves at the “Overseas Visitors Records Office” in South London this morning, passport in hand and ready to be swallowed up by the system.
We queued up (along with a rather startlingly large number of other young men accompanying foreign wives and girlfriends), were allocated a ticket number and given the form to fill out. On this form were the details of the registration fee payable – £34.
Yes, £34. Almost half as much again as the cost of the visa that allowed Mila into the country in the first place. The hard-faced agent, sorry cashier who processed the form seemed unimpressed with my protestations, explaining blandly that the Home Office imposed the fee, yes it was compulsory and could I please keep my voice down and stop using expressions such as “legalised extortion” and “daylight robbery” or they would have to call security.
Now a small fee for the processing of the paperwork I could understand. £5 or maybe £10 would be a reasonable, nominal sum, especially as in return you get a professional document complete with your photograph that is effectively your ID as a legal alien in this country. £34 however is nothing short of extortionate, particularly when you consider that you have to pay it. This isn’t like paying the fee for a passport or a driving licence whereby to a certain extent market forces operate – if you disagree with the cost you simply don’t buy one. In this case you don’t pay the fee, you fail to fulfil your legal obligations to register and risk deportation.
So I’m not going to let my objections rest with shouting at the lady behind the screen. Having paid a large amount of money for a visa, you certainly should not have to pay a similar amount for the right to use the thing once you have arrived. Imagine paying for a flight only to be told upon landing that there is a compulsory tax for use of the steps down to the tarmac. Nobody would stand for it.
I guess I need to be content that Mila only wants to love me, rather than love the systems and bureaucracy of my country. Right now I’m having a hard enough job of that as it is.