How Many Chavs Does It Take To Screw in a Lightbulb?
– How many pints does it take before you fall into the gutter?
– How short does your skirt have to be before you’re technically on the game?
These are the kinds of questions I expected to encounter on the “Life in the UK” test I recently had to take in order to apply for British residency. Instead I was confronted by such silly and irrelevant questions as:
– In what year did women win the right to divorce their husbands?
– What percent has the UK population grown since 1971?
– When are you entitled to receive a free TV licence?
Now I ask you, what does any of this stuff REALLY have to do with life in the UK? Okay, I can understand why it was an important moment in history when women were finally allowed to get rid of the sorry bastards they’d been stupid enough to marry in the first place. But TV licences? I mean, does anyone even want to live to the age of 75 to qualify for a free TV licence? Just think how many more reality TV shows there will be by then, not to mention no-talent celebs spawned from said shows. If that isn’t enough to make you top yourself before you hit 75 then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, there I was in the garden spot of England known as Ilford – me and a motley crew of some 20-plus dodgy foreigners, all of whom had assembled in the public library to plunk down our hard-earned 35 quid to take a computerised test to prove we’re worthy of remaining in this country and paying income tax, National Health Service contributions, and VAT on virtually everything save for using the toilet. It was quite a cultural hodgepodge; I ran into Nigerians, Romanians, Australians (yes, even Commonwealth citizens have to take the exam), South Africans, Russians, Pakistanis – you name it, they were there. Though I believe I was the only American. Hmm… Wonder what was up with that?
Having spent nearly a month studying on and off (well, if I’m honest, mostly off), I felt fairly confident after taking the practice tests in the book I’d bought that I’d pass the blasted thing, providing I didn’t get hit with a slew of questions requiring my recollection of dates and numbers. Nevertheless, I began to get worried when the Muslim woman seated next to me was cramming up until the last minute from her dog-eared copy of British Citizenship For Dummies. Oy vey.
As I sat at my assigned computer terminal waiting for the endless queue of persona non grata foreigners to be processed (“processed” being to check their ID and get their money off them), my stomach reminded me that it hadn’t been fed since breakfast, and it was now pushing half past 4 in the afternoon (the exam time was set at 4pm). I became obsessed with the thought of the nice Canadian cheddar in my fridge at home. To distract myself, I got into a conversation with the Aussie seated behind me, only to be drowned out by a squalling infant someone had been daft enough to bring along to the party. Mind you, it got even worse once the exam started. Apparently some sort of Punch and Judy shtick was going on in the library (at least I think it was Punch and Judy), so all throughout the exam we found ourselves being treated to maniacal male shouting accompanied by the occasional manic strum of out-of-tune guitar strings. It made me wonder if we weren’t in a public library at all, but instead an institution for the criminally insane.
Fortunately for me, I passed the exam, which means I can now get the rest of my endless pile of paperwork assembled and apply for my settlement visa – providing, of course, I sell about a zillion more copies of my books or providing I can get the guys from The Italian Job together to steal that gold (I always did fancy driving one of those vintage Minis!), since it will take a king’s ransom to pay the extortionate new application fee imposed by the British Home Office. This would never have happened were they still operating under the aegis of that nice working-class bloke from Sheffield, David Blunkett.
Speaking of whom, I actually ran into David Blunkett in a car park in Sheffield city centre a few years back. And no, I don’t mean while driving a Mini! But that’s another story…