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Birthday 2017

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Yesterday did not go as planned. I was meant to take a half day holiday to make up for all of the overtime that I have been doing, but I had to help sort out some issues at work and assist others. As a result, I ended up working my total daily hours (then had to tell colleagues I really needed to leave and that I'd already put in too much time already). With that, I headed home. As a result of the busy day (which is common at the moment for me), I didn't get to call up and book a new local restaurant in Ruislip Manor that I've heard is good and that I really wanted to try. The bloke and I tried to get in after work, but it was booked full, and they would not let us in. We ended up going to another nice established local restaurant instead; this is one that we have been to once before with friends and has the best reviews in the area: Zaza Ruislip.

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Zaza is an Italian restaurant located in Ruislip at the end of the High Street near the barn and Manor House. The food really is delicious, but I didn't take any photographs this time. I told them that it was my birthday, and they brought out my dessert (a creme brulee) with a candle and birthday message. This was a perfect end to a busy day.

My life is a bit of a blur at the moment. Work has been extremely busy, and changes are happening at the moment. I'd been putting in a lot of hours; this has mainly been due to assisting juniour developers who are also new to the project; many of the tasks are very complex, so they had many questions and needed a lot of help, which has taken up my time as I've had to take on extra tasks. The processes are not the greatest; tasks were approved and then suddenly I had to make changes at the last minute, after it had been approved by several people. (That defeated the purpose as I raise things well in advance to avoid last-minute issues as I am not a procrastinator; disorganisation irks me.) 

I've also been unpacking and sorting out bits with the moving. (Yes, I moved at the end of 2015, but I was living out of boxes because the house needed renovations; after just over six months, those came to an end and I've been unpacking and tidying bits away since then.) I'd like to have a house-warming party in early July, but I am not sure if that will happen. That is my target to get things sorted anyway.

Home Renovations Update

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I moved closer to London for work in late 2015, but everything was left packed in boxes as the house needed major renovations. I was just "existing" actually before we moved - working late and at all hours, living out of boxes, and actually not trying to be at "home" very much. Finally, the builders were able to get started with the project. We lived in the house the whole time, confined to one small bedroom with the Merlin the cat. The ground floor was gutted, and any spare amount of space in the small bedroom and any other spare corner became a storage pile for the unopened boxes. We didn't have heating for one night (the coldest night of the year) and was impossible to sleep; the other nights/days. we had to resort to the electric heaters that the builders lent to us. Earlier this month, the majority of the work finished, but there's a few more snagging and places that the builders need to come back to finish. However, we've been able to start unpacking and attempting to live.

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Unpacking the boxes of my items that I have not seen since early in 2015 was satisfying, but I am still missing a couple of boxes. One of the items that I had the builders make was a set of shelves around the fireplace. (In the photograph below, the shelves were not built yet, but the fireplace, light fittings, mirror, and paint colours was all picked out by me.) On the shelves, I decided to add books mixed in with items that mean something to me and look good together. I love plants, and I have mixed these with books and other items that I have picked up on my travels and that bring me happiness when I look at them.

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I now also have a decent bedroom, and I picked out the paint, flooring and doors. I am really happy with this room. The colours go so well, and behind the door in the photograph is an en-suite that I also designed with grey-brown tiles (which complement the room) with a textured section that forms a feature wall. I will have to get more photographs once the work is complete and tidied.

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I am so happy that the majority of the work is now completed, but the unpacking and getting everything sorted is taking time. This is what I have been busy with recently and what is consuming a lot of my time.

Happy Easter 2017

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Happy Easter and spring to all of my readers! Your writer was looking forward to unpacking and "moving in" to the house this weekend as it has been under renovation since early December, and I've been confined to a single bedroom packed full of boxes upstairs while the whole of the ground floor was gutted. However, a couple of set-backs, builder mistakes, and contactors not turning up has meant that I'm stuck in this room for at least another couple of weeks. One of the worst bits about this has been not being able to cook and relying on take-aways that can be eaten without plates and cutlery as everything is covered in dust. I was hoping to cook a nice Easter meal, but that will now not happen. In fact, I've been planning everything so that I do not have to stick around the house much. In fact, I went to Whitechapel on Saturday to Rinkoff's Bakery. (You may remember that I covered the rainbow bagels and their bakery in general in previous posts.)

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I really needed a pick-me up because of these set-backs beyond my control. The above rainbow cake is a chocolate cake, and it was filled with Cadbury's Mini Eggs in the middle; these were also placed on top of the cake. The cake is delicious, but it's very rich so I have been saving it.

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I also brought home the special limited edition Cadbury Creme Egg Croughnuts (a.k.a Crodough or Cronut), which is the cross between a doughnut and a croissant. These are particularly delicious with the vanilla icing, creme egg on top, and the middle contains a creme egg fondant inside. The "dough" is flakey and gooey at the same time. It really is a treat.

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I've also been craving hot cross buns, but the lack of a kitchen has meant that I've been unable to have any. However, I picked up a couple of these and managed to dust off the toaster and toast them. I hope that I am able to have more hot cross buns next year as I do enjoy a hot cross bun with a cup of tea.

Happy Valentine's Day with Lola's Cupcakes

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Today is a Tuesday, and it is Valentine's Day. Last year, it fell on a Sunday, and the bloke and I have done something for the day for the past couple of years. Last year, we went all out for it with dinner at the Great Hall in Harry Potter's Hogwarts (at Warner Brother Studios). On the big day itself, we had a trip in the cable car with champagne and chocolates. The year before that, we played Swingers Crazy Golf pop-up (before it opened a non-pop up branch) in Shoreditch. This year, we've just had a normal day at work. However, I received a surprise tin from Lola's cupcakes when I arrived home. (We're not able to cook as we don't have a kitchen yet, and flowers are off limits as we are confined to sharing a single room with the cat; cats prefer to eat and play with flowers instead of admire them.)

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Lola's came with a cute decorated tin that has four cupcakes, a miniature bottle of champagne (with two straws, but don't try to drink champagne using a straw as I found out the hard way), and a single red rose.

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Happy Valentine's Day!

In June, I posted an update which was a bit of a rambling about social and political concerns. Earlier this month, we had the American election, and all of the feelings that I had at the end of June were re-surfaced. I think that generally, some people have been a bit miserable for most of this year and have taken out their unhappiness on other people. Again, I saw people being cruel and disrespectful to each other. That brings me to another point about people being mean, which I'll discuss later on in this post. I also have some good news to share, which basically means that I'll be able to keep more of an eye on the street art scene in Shoreditch.

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The contract that I started in January (read a little about it here) this year has come to an end now. The first part of this year was going so well, and I really enjoyed the work that I was doing. I even considered going permanent because I was really enjoying the type of work and the colleagues. I did notice a large turnover in staff, but I always keep my head down and just get on with work. I was the initial developer on the project so set it up and then moved onto the related product which were sales tools to help customers choose their new product. I loved building this framework, and it was a very busy contract. Not a week went by that I did not do at least one day of overtime. Most of that was unpaid as I enjoyed it, but we were asked to do overtime to complete a very tight deadline. I was doing nine-day weeks on average for a couple of months at least. I also did not take any holiday days; I have not had any for two years now.

Overtime was also easy to fall into because I had to use my personal laptop, and I installed software on my phone so 'work' was never far away. I got into the habit of seeing messages pop up from other colleagues and replying at non-working hours. I was even woken up early on a Sunday morning by a colleague asking me a question, and I logged on to help him. It was easy to fall into the trap of not being able to switch off from work.

As the year progressed, people who lacked the skills and needed a lot of guidance or who did not have the same strong work ethic were put onto the team. This meant that I ended up taking more on so the team could succeed. In the middle of the year, others were brought on board, and the culture changed again, but it was not for the best. I witnessed people being disrespectful and generally banding together against others and behaving unprofessionally. (Funnily enough, I later found out that others felt the same or had a very similar experience there.) Anyway, my point is that people have been so mean to each other this year, and it's really depressing. 

Based on what I have witnessed this year, my "thought for the year" is this:
Think of how far WE would come if gender, race, sexuality, religion, etc were ignored and everyone loved each other. I've said it before and I'm saying it again. Respect.

The focus on work was why I have not really been updating my blog as much (or with interesting content, in my view or I could just be feeling that I've let myself down in my social/personal life as I've had none this year) and why I've felt so exhausted this year. 

However, leaving aside the people being cruel to each other...I do have some good news. I'm working back on Brick Lane again, so to readers of my blog, that means I am able to see new street art and keep updated on the street art movement. I've already seen a lot of new pieces being placed. I've also really enjoyed seeing great people that I used to work with in the past month and catching up with them as well as meeting new people.

Please be kind to others. I know that people are stressed and the situations this year have not been perfect, but I think it's of a much wider concern that has taken awhile to manifest in community. I'll leave with a quote by Maya Angelou:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Halloween 2016 & Update

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I enjoy seeing the Halloween decorations and costumes each year, and I love this time of the year. I went out with an ex-colleague on Friday night in Bethnal Green and was amused with the costumes seen; some of them were very creative. On the tube journey back home, costumes and crowds were more chatty. Here in the UK, the holiday is blended with Bonfire Night, which falls on November 5, and consists of bonfires and fireworks. Last night and Saturday night, I saw that many programmes (such as 'XFactor' and 'Strictly Come Dancing') had Halloween themes and Halloween programmes were on television; I watched "The Blob". I'm not into the very scary/gory films or costumes.

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Halloween cupcakes

Yesterday, the bloke and I went to Bournemouth and caught up with some of his friends and family. Seven of us went to an escape room where we played two games and (because it was early) had a drink at Starbucks before going bowling. I did surprisingly good, considering I have not been bowling too many times in my life and have not been at all since around 2011. After two games of bowling, we parked in Bournemouth town centre and saw "Doctor Strange" at the cinema before going for a meal and drinks and played around with Snapchat filters.

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Halloween cupcakes

This year, this season also marks the end of my current contract. I was hoping that it would go on for another year at least as I was really enjoying the work and had been on the project from the beginning. I'd started in early January, and the last few months had been more stressful as we had to do so much overtime in order to meet tight deadlines. (Actually, since I had been there, not a week went by where I did not put in at least one day of overtime, and I had not had any time off.) To say the least, this year has been a hectic one and one where I've not had much of a personal life. I didn't expect everything to change so soon. 

Whatever I decide to do, I hope that I have a healthy work-life balance. Keep reading my blog to see what I get up to next! Happy Halloween!

Russet, Purple and Gold

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I really miss autumns in the USA. They are so much more colourful than the bland autumns here in the UK where the leaves may turn a slight shade of brown or orange before falling to the ground. Also, the weather just turns a bit cooler. In the USA, it gets much colder and frosty for a couple of weeks before the last warmth of the year returns for another couple of weeks. These two warm weeks are known as "Indian Summer", and it's my favourite time of year. This normally happens in the early or middle part of October. Of course, some autumns are more colourful than others, and wind or rain is not appreciated because that knocks the leaves and colour off the trees.

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I have not been to the USA for autumn or seen it since I lived there, and that last time was around 2003. From what I remember, it was not a memorable autumn like some of the past ones. The above photographs were past autumns that I enjoyed growing up, and they would have been taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s. My aunt bought me a camera for my birthday in the late 1980s, and it went everywhere with me. 

One of my favourite pastimes was going on walks on the farm. My favourite was to climb the large hill that was located across some pastures. The hill over-looked a small village and valley, and it was a great place to enjoy the views and the autumn colours.

Autumn also meant drinking apple cider (pure apple juice) and carving pumpkins. It also meant picking gourds, squash, apples, and Indian corn. Indian corn is brightly-coloured corn that is used for decoration in the autumn. It is left to dry in the fields and then picked in the autumn. The husks are peeled back to reveal beautiful colours, and the colours were unknown until the husks were pulled back to reveal it.

Over January one year, probably close to twelve years ago now, my father was helping with replacing the flooring at my grandmother's house. They discovered several old newspapers dating from the early 1900s, and the newest one of the lot was dated in the early January at around the same time that the floor was being replaced, which means that the last floor work was probably done about 90 years ago at roughly the same time of the year.

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I read many of the articles in the old papers. In one, there was a poem that described autumn. The papers are currently in the USA, but I wanted to track the poem down. I remembered the title of it, so I tried my luck at searching for it and was able to locate it. News in America is syndicated because it's such a large country, so articles would be posted across many papers. I was able to trace the poem to an identical page located in a newspaper known as Elmira Telegram from New York. The direct link is at the bottom of this post. 

Nearly a hundred years after the poem was published by an (I assume) reader/writer who submitted it to the Denver Times newspaper, it was read by me. I do not know anything about the writer of the poem other than it was printed in the November 4, 1903 edition of the Elmira Telegram newspaper. The poem is below.

RUSSET, PURPLE AND GOLD.
The woodland dreams in the distant blue;
The foothllls hide in the purple haze;
The forest is robed in a royal blue,
And the boundless valleys seem ablaze.
The beautiful trees unfold,
In a quiet display of, shifting-scene,
Advance from the order of gray and green
To russet, purple and gold.

The mellow sunbeams gleam and glow,
And shimmer above the peaceful fields.
The willows lean where the waters flow;
The rushes rustle their fluted shields,
The grasses are all unrolled;
The cricket his farewell sonnet weaves
While over him hang the autumn leaves,
In russet, purple; and gold.

Oh, let me wander among the vines,
Where bramble and briar shield the brake
When Indian summer around me shines,
And the frosted leaves a footway make!
I refuse to be counted old--
The alluring hopes of youth return
For the mystic fires, of boyhood burn
In russet, purple, and gold. 

- O. W. KINNE, (In Denver Times)

http://www.fultonhistory.com/Newspaper4/Elmira%20NY%20Morning%20Telegram/Elmira%20NY%20Morning%20Telegram%201903%20Grayscale/Elmira%20NY%20Morning%20Telegram%201903%20Grayscale%20-%200595.pdf#xml=http://www.fultonhistory.com/dtSearch/dtisapi6.dll?cmd=getpdfhits&u=57803ef9&DocId=1124365&Index=Z%3a%5cIndex%20O%2dG%2dT%2dS&HitCount=16&hits=51a+51b+51c+51d+54f+550+551+552+580+581+582+583+5b4+5b5+5b6+5b7+&SearchForm=C%3a%5cinetpub%5cwwwroot%5cFulton%5fNew%5fform%2ehtml&.pdf 

Autumn really is my favourite time of year.

'Star Wars' Celebration 2016

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Last weekend, I spent a long day at "Star Wars Celebration Europe". Readers of my blog may remember that I'm a fan of "Star Wars" and went to the "Secret Cinema" presents "The Empire Strikes Back" last year along the "Star Wars" theme. This year, the science fiction event was held in London at the Excel centre and covered a large area. Actually, there was no way that I could see everything because the day also involved waiting around in queues for a lot of the time. There were queues to see the props from "Rogue One", "The Force Awakens", gaming, virtual reality, the panels, and even the shop itself.

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I did go to see the props from "Rogue One" (which will be released at the end of this year) at the end of the day where there wasn't a queue to get in. I also participated in the "Trials of Tatooine" virtual reality, which was really amazing. Headphones and glasses and a device that looks like a remote control are given to you, and the next thing you know, you're on the desert planet of Tatooine. You get to meet and interact with R2-D2, see the Millennium Falcon, and deflect laser shots back at stormtroopers with your lightsabre. It was surreal.

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The cosplay was also amazing, and I saw a lot of great costumes like the ones above of characters from "Star Wars Rebels". 

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They even had a full-sized TIE fighter and a small AT-AT walker.

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The above are props from "The Force Awakens".

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I didn't think I'd ever be able to catch a glimpse of Mark Hamill (my favourite character and crush Luke Skywalker), but I was so lucky. At the end of the day, I ran into one of the rooms to get some merchandise and he was right in front of me, talking to an audience that had gathered around. In the shot above, he was discussing the deleted original scene (which never made the final cut) in "A New Hope" where he meets up with his childhood friends Biggs (who does make it to the Rebel Alliance) and Cammie, and he shows a photograph of the characters.

Overall, that was the icing on the cake and nothing could top it. It was a really good day.

That Was An Interesting Month...

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June was an interesting month and a month that I am actually glad to see the end of now. June was a celebration of my birthday and the Queen's official birthday on the same weekend; this meant that it was super busy. I've felt exhausted a lot of the month and it's as if I have not had the chance to catch up and take a break. Many have also been focused on the European Cup (football). In addition, we learned that a week ago, the United Kingdom (as a whole) voted to leave the European Union. This started a spiral effect of negativity, which I have witnessed first hand on the day of the results and in the aftermath. It shows a nation divided, and this is not good. 

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I don't care how people voted because we're all in this together. I think that some things needed to change, but the country still is in Europe and has to play a part due to its geography. What I did not like was hearing people being accused of being 'racist' or 'uneducated' due to the way that they voted and labelling everyone who voted a particular way with a word and lack of research or understanding of what they voted for. I know many people were undecided because of all of the political propaganda surrounding the issue, and many people I know (who voted for either 'remain' or 'leave') did their research. They are not uneducated, ignorant, irrational, nor racist people. As you may know, I do not have a lot of time as I keep a busy life, so I only associate with certain people and do not have time for people who are intolerant nor uneducated. (And 'uneducated' does not mean a degree or a lot of education; it simply means that someone is interested in the world around them and knows how to make decisions.)

I also don't agree with 'punishing' certain countries in the European Union. Germany gets too much bad press based on its history, and the people claiming that 'Germany needs to pay' is absolutely wrong. These people need to read up on their history. In fact, crippling Germany with so many sanctions after World War I was one reason why people were fooled by a charismatic leader who offset this blame and went on to start another war. I suggest these people read up on why World War I began, too. For what it's worth, I think that (as a nation), the Germans do work hard and they are efficient. I've heard both 'leave' and 'remain' sides blaming Germany. Boo.

I think less of the people who got worked up and started to brandish around harsh terms for everyone who voted a particular way. Last Friday, I lost respect for some people who were brandishing about these labels in a negative and unproductive way. It was unprofessional. In my view, what I witnessed was equivelant to the bullies that have come out to verbally or physically attack other people over the course of the week (or even prior to this political shambles). I don't think that anyone should be bullied for their views (within reason), their religion, their gender, their appearance, or for any other reason. Every person is different, and that is what makes this world unique. 

I am very sad to hear about the horrible stories where some people have been bullied and told to "go back home" and singled out. This is unacceptable. Everyone who entered the country legally has a right to be here. Many of the people born in this country actually came from other countries and their ancestors came from other countries. In fact, some of these ancestors would have forced their way here. Perhaps everyone should complete a DNA test to realise how diverse they actually are.

What has happened has happened, so we (as a nation) need to show leadership and unity. Even if roughly half of us do not agree with the decision. What is done is done. 

Now, I am going to blame the politicians. These events just prove to me even more that the politicans are weak and really do not know what they are doing and really are out of touch with the people. I have not seen much leadership happening, and the prime minster seems incapable or unwilling. The British political arena is a shambles. Surely this country must have people who are able to bring the country together under leadership and sort out this mess. That is what they are being paid to do. One needs to step up and work in the interest of the United Kingdom and its role in Europe (and as a separate identity). So far, it's been a cringe-worthy laughing-stock of unprofessional and priveleged people who don't want to or seem incapable of leading. This is really what is hurting the image of the country.

I hope that everyone can stick together and be friends. I hope the bullying stops. I hope the politicians sort themselves out. Right now, we need a true leader. I don't know who it will be, but so far I've not been impressed with the politicians, and they have a lot to answer for. Remember that we're in this together. The politicians are the ones with the money and the power. Do we really even have a vote, or was it already decided? Right now, we need to stand strong.

A major life event has recently taken place for me, and I'm excited to share it: British citizenship! On Thursday, I had to return to Basingstoke in order to obtain my British citizenship certificate at the citizenship ceremony. This is the final step in the citizenship process and has been a long time coming for me. My story is below with some tips on the process that showcase my experience from the start of my British experience.

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I was born in America (United States), and after a visit to the UK with some university professors and classmates in the spring of 1998, I dreamed of returning. I was able to join the BUNAC student work exchange programme, and I used this as part of my job experience that was required for my university degree. By the way, BUNAC stands for Britain/United States/New Zealand/Australia/Canada, and it's a work exchange programme for six months for students of these major English-speaking countries to go to another country to live and work. I was in the programme in 2000 for six months, and I moved over to the UK by myself; I did not know anyone.

I enrolled at Bournemouth University to return to the UK and obtain my Master's degree on a student visa. From there, I had a visa extension and was sponsored for two separate visas by two employers. In addition to this, I obtained my own visa under the HSMP (highly skilled migrant programme) and extended it twice, which was the limit that it could be extended.

I had to wait a month before my last visa extension expired before I could apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), which was the next step. You were not allowed to apply until a month before the visa expired.

Before actually making this part of the application, applicants need to take the 'Life in the UK' test, and those from non-English speaking countries must also take a language exam and go through a few more hurdles. I spent the spring studying for that test and took/passed the exam in the early summer of 2012.

Once those hurdles were finished, the ILR visa can be applied via post or in person. I did look for available applications in person as you can apply for the ILR in person or via the post. Biometrics are also a part of the process, but this is submitted upon request by the Home Office.

I checked availability for face-to-face ILR submissions a few weeks before my visa expired, but there wasn't availability. The post way had always been fairly quick for me, so I opted for that and thought that it would not take long. (Actually, the lack of no spaces for face-to-face availablility I later learned was due to dodgey people outside the UK buying the spaces up to sell at a premium!) When applying for ILR, you have to submit a tonne of paperwork, and you also have to surrender your passport. You cannot get these documents back, and you just have to play the waiting game. I honestly didn't think it would take so long as my visas were very quick to process, and I received them back in a short time. My brother was getting married in January, so getting the documentation was very important. I honestly believed that I would receive it back in time for my brother's wedding.

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I did not get my documentation back. I missed my brother's wedding. I was very upset about that. In fact, it took all of nine months to get my ILR approved and the documentation returned. There were known backlogs in processing applications at this time.

Please do not make the same mistake I did (although it was not my fault about the lack of availability). Always apply for the ILR in person. If you need your passport back suddenly, then your submission for ILR becomes invalid. Don't chance it. Most face-to-face applications for ILR are made the same day. Sure, it costs a little more, but then you have peace of mind and your documentation and passport in your possession.

I received my ILR in April of 2013. After two years of holding an ILR, you can apply for citizenship as long as you have met the additional requirements, such as not being out of the UK for a long period of time. I could have applied a little earlier than I did, but they are constantly brining about changes to the system and increasing the fees, so I decided to do it. Another major factor was that the last company that I was working at wanted me to go out to their European branch every now and again. I wanted the ability to freely travel in the European Union, and the queues for the "All other passports" was really wearing on me. 

I started the application process for citizenship last summer. The Home Office took approximately five months to make the decision about my citizenship. (Upon receipt of the paperwork, you are asked to get your biometrics done at one of the special post office branches, and I also had to do this for the ILR too.) If the application passes, you are sent the details about the ceremony. The ceremony is the last step. (Of course, you still have to apply separately for a British passport.)

The ceremony is a formal process where you state a pledge and invite a couple of friends or family to share your experience. Photographs are taken that you can buy (or take your own), and you really do not need to speak that much. It was all formal but done in an informal way. Each person is then called up to sign the document. We were told at the beginning about where everyone in the room was from, and a list of countries were rattled out. It was an easy process, and you don't need to prepare for it. You just need to bring a form of identification and the invitation to the ceremony. You receive the legal document, a certificate, a small gift (we got pens at Basingstoke) and additional paperwork about what you need to do after the ceremony. (You have to send your biometrics back to the Home Office and apply separately for your passport, for example.)

I am glad that this final step is complete, and it really has taken a lot to get here. It caused me to miss my brother's wedding (one of the most important family events that I don't think anyone should miss), and it cost a lot of time, effort, and money. It is not a step to take lightly. Particularly if your nationality does not allow you to have dual citizenship. (I personally think they could have given a better gift than a pen; a gold medal would have been nice!)

The cost of immigration is expensive, and I've probably spent around £20,000 in total. That includes cost of visas, photographs, biometrics, fees to the Home Office, solicitor fees, the exam costs, postage, and this does not include the time it takes to get all of your documentation together.

I hope that this guide has helped others know the involvement of what is required to obtain citizenship. Have you been through the process or are you currently going through the process now?

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