The British Citizenship

My biggest news this week is the letter from the Home Office telling me that they have accepted my application for British Citizenship. So on the 9th of May, I have an appointment in my local town hall for a swearing ceremony: I shall swear allegiance to Queen and country.

Amazing! On the 9th of May 2011, I will be officially British. It’s funny really because when I started the application process, I didn’t really think it was going to change my life. I mean, not deeply. I thought I would still be French, but I will also be a British citizen. I realise now it isn’t just getting a certificate and off I go back to my daily life only now I can vote in the next general elections. Since I got that letter, I found myself smiling inside about certain things that are all British, things that never moved me before.

For example the Royal Wedding on the 29th of April: I am suddenly feeling all warm and fuzzy for Kate and William, and I really really would like to be there, in the crowd of well-wishers, waving a little British flag, and shouting: “I love you William! I love you Kate!” I have never really thought much about the Royal Family. Now, I actually found myself thinking fondly about Her Majesty – Look! I have just called her Her Majesty! I have never done that before!!!

It is all obviously a hell of a lot more than just getting a certificate that says I am British. And it is very interesting for me to realise just how much more it is. I have never been in a situation where an authority of any kind has ever demanded of me a high level of integrity in order to proceed with some sort of official event. I have seen movies where a witness must swear to say the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in a tribunal, and those scenes always made me laugh as I thought that it will never stop anyone from lying should they wish to.

However, I feel that on May the 9th, it will be with tremendous honesty and integrity that I shall raise my right hand, along with the other people who will be there with me, and swear to serve Queen and Country for ever. When I think about it for a moment, it kind of makes sense: I am the girl who is completely unable to lie about anything, no matter how trivial.

I think I really need to learn the lyrics for the national anthem! It just wouldn’t do to be British and not be able to sing God Saves the Queen when needed. I watched the movie Casablanca, many years ago. There is a scene in a bar where all the French people there stand up and start singing the French anthem in answer to some German person who was annoying everyone. I can’t remember the details of the scene, but I do remember how I felt when they all started singing: I actually cried with pride for my fellow compatriots who were all together standing up to the German invader. After I have been made officially British, I must find myself a movie where people start singing the British anthem to see if I cry with similar tears. Actually, come to think of it, I just remembered something: when I saw “The King’s Speech”, I felt particularly emotive during the very last scene where the King makes the said speech. In fact, I even had a very strong urge to stand up and clap! …mmmmh… perhaps I was always a lot more British that I really thought…

Unfortunately, becoming British, as well as still being French, is also going to put me in a very difficult position during major football events. If France plays against England, who will I support? Argh! What a painful dilemma… I wonder if I can just cheer for both sides?

I can’t wait for someone to ask me for my nationality, or to fill in a form of some sort asking me about my nationality, because for the first time ever, I will be able to answer: I am British.

This feels good. This feels right. I always was an expat. A French girl living in Britain. Someone who came for a short while but ended up staying by accident. Always thinking that if everything goes wrong for me, I can always go back to France. Britain became home a long time ago, but for some reason, being British makes it even more like home. Home, with a capital H.

I am SO excited about it all! I can’t wait for the day after the 9th of May: I think I will come to work with a little British flag and stick it on my computer screen. And I shall also try to find a cake with a British flag on it to bring to work in order to celebrate.

On the 11th of May, it will be my birthday. My first birthday as a British citizen.


Another list of things to do

I think it is time to make another list of things to do.

9) Choose which college I want to go to. This isn’t a priority just yet as I have decided to wait for the end of April when I get the answer from the scholarships’ trusts as to whether I’ll have funding or not.

8 ) Get British Citizenship. I have filled in all the paper work, paid the fee, sent off copies of all my personal information, so now it is just a matter of waiting for a letter from the Home Office. So I am waiting…

7) Create an internet site. I have purchased a domain name and I have my blog on it, but after several hours of trying to understand how to actually build a page for showing my paintings, I decided it would be best to stop before I throw my expensive new laptop out the window. Honestly, whoever wrote those instructions on how to create webpages with a Template Landing Page must have been high on some sort of medication: I just don’t understand any of it. I speak English and French, not Technical Gibberish! I think that what I really need is to find a person who would be willing to help me understand that obscure world which is the construction of a webpage. Any offers??

6) Remortgage my flat. I am enjoying the low interest base rate I am on at the moment as it allows me to save £100 a month compared to the fixed rate I was on before. But I am aware that I must switch back to a fixed rate before I rent out this place in the summer as mortgage companies don’t allow for another switch once the flat is rented. And I don’t want to take the risk of the base rate going up to an uncomfortable fee once I am stuck with it.

5) Finish the letter to Investment Bank CEOs. I have started it, and it is about 3 pages long. I am sure that anyone who receives a letter so long will lose interest after about 2 sentences and just bin it. I must really consider it like a written interview: it is the first 2 or 3 minutes of the interview that will be the most important. Similarly, I must catch my potential sponsor’s attention within the first couple of sentences.

4) Complete the application forms for the 3 scholarships I am interested in. I have more or less finished the first one, but it is very challenging. Considering that I have no experience in wood-work apart from the short coffee table course I had in February, the trustees whose job it is to choose people to sponsor will probably be wondering why they should invest in me. I fear most of the sponsorship money is distributed to people who already have experience of wood-work, people who have a proven track record of actually working with wood. So I am trying to put the emphasis on the fact that I have potential (as per the feedback I got after my interview at the private college), and that my short course tutor has given me a fantastic reference, way better than I expected. I also want them to bear in mind that my intention is to eventually work for the English Heritage, which is something that promises to be both challenging (as I’ll need an MA) and amazing (I can’t wait to get my hands onto the wonderful pieces of antique furniture they have).

3) Practise wood-work. I don’t really want to spend money on another short course as they are not cheap at all. My next door neighbour is a carpenter, I have some tools, and I found a place where I can get some planks of wood suitable for the construction of small items such as a keepsake box. I would like to try and construct such a box myself.

2) Save money. Yep. I am living on a shoe string budget already as I only buy food and essentials. Anything that is not vital is mercilessly ignored and not purchased. I refuse to buy any new office clothes as I shall stop working in an office in September, so I am merely looking after the ones I have to make them last as long as possible. My obsession with saving money by recycling anything and everything as well as making things last as long as possible can sometimes seem quite mad. I discovered the other day that I have a pair of knickers with a hole in them, and I seriously considered mending them with a needle and thread… On the other hand, always trying to find alternatives to buying something new in the regular supermarkets is a very creative way to save money. I have discovered the joys of shopping at Lidl and Aldi, which is heaven for the most unusual bargains – you wouldn’t believe the amount of quality tools they have in those shops; on the market, which is fantastic for vegetables and household stuff; in farms, which allows me to be environmentally friendly by purchasing local products; and in charity shops for clothes; all this before going to Sainsbury’s if I really can’t find what I am looking for. (And for those who are wondering: I did eventually treat myself to some new knickers! There is a limit to budgeting 🙂 )

1) Don’t forget to breathe and relax. Last week, I suddenly became aware of how tough I was with myself. I was leaving very little room inside of me for relaxing and being kind to myself as most of the space within me was taken over by my quest for money, scholarship funding, wood-work courses, change of career and so on and so forth. I was treating myself the way I wouldn’t treat a friend who comes for help and support: sending them away because I am too busy with other more technical issues to do with my selfish life. No wonder I have been craving staying home lately. I was moaning to a friend that I never go out and therefore never meet anyone. But actually, that’s exactly what I need: I need time alone, to catch up with myself, relax, breathe, and give myself the space and compassion that I need in order to be able to cope with all those changes. There is no point fighting my way through all this and struggling to get results. If I don’t enjoy the journey, then why should I go through it at all?

My Dilemna

I have a choice to make. I have been accepted to two colleges, and although last week I called one of them to tell them to not keep my place as I decided to go to the cheaper college, I felt, after hanging up, that I shouldn’t have done that. In fact, I called them back 15 minutes later to say that I was very sorry but I have changed my mind again and please would they reinstate me. Duh!

College Number 1: A private establishment set in a stunning castle (Hogwarts Castle on a smaller scale) in the middle of a beautiful village, with view over a hill with grazing sheep. The furniture and conservation course is 4.5 days a week, in a class not exceeding 6 people, with a top European specialist in traditional woodwork techniques who looks so stern that I wonder if he knows what a smile is. Cost: £10,890 pa.

College Number 2: A public establishment set in a warehouse in the middle of the industrial estate of a small town, with view over the railway. The course is 2 days a week in 2 classes of about 20 students each, with a friendly tutor that makes everybody smile on his way. Cost not set yet but likely to be no more than £1,500 pa.

Of course, both places have pros and cons, but even with a detailed list, I am still finding it hard to decide between the two. When it comes to cost, it’s a no brainer: I should go to the public one as it is not only cheaper, but it will also allow me to take up a part-time job. However, that one doesn’t lead to the fantastic almost one to one tutorship that the private establishment will offer. When I called their secretary to tell them I wasn’t going to be coming, the first thing she told me was that if I hadn’t heard about the scholarship trustees yet, how could I make a decision so soon? But that’s the problem I have: even if I do get scholarship funding, nobody has been able to tell me for sure whether it is possible that I get full scholarship, which will be the only way I can pretend to take that expensive course.

Ok so I might get some funding, but will it be enough to live on while studying full time 4.5 days a week? I am willing to get a part-time job, but it would have to be working weekends – my only free time – which means that I will have no time to rest. I am sure that most students live like that: all work and no play. I have known 2 mature students who both struggled in different ways. One of them was never able to get a job suitable for a student, i.e. with flexible hours; the other one couldn’t find a job close from home: she ended up commuting from the south coast to London and going to her evening classes at the end of each day, which almost gave her a nervous break-down: she eventually had to quit her London job because she spent all her time commuting and working, and not enough time studying. She was on the verge of failing her exams.

I don’t mind the hard work. Indeed I want this change and I am prepared to work hard for it. But my health isn’t what it used to be. Since I was sick in 2006, I have learnt the hard way about my own limits, and I have learnt to obey them. I know that if I study all week, and then work at the week end, something inside of me will break down at some point. Emotional tiredness can be just as bad as physical tiredness.

So it seems that it will all be decided when I get the answer from the scholarship trustees: I need to wait and see if I get full scholarship and enough funding for a year of intense studying. If that isn’t possible, then I will have to take the college that offers me time to work as well as study.

But while I am considering the financial implications of those courses, I have something else to think about. My ethics as well as the values I was brought up believing in.

The private institution is run by people whose salaries are paid for by our student fees. One of those staff drives a Lotus – and most of the students seem to be from an impeccable tori background.

The public institution is run so that many brilliant students can get a shot at getting the training they want, and for some of the mature students, the course fee will be waived for a variety of reasons.

Generations of labour and factory workers, as well as a stray communist here and there, are in my blood and screaming in my head to not join a private establishment. You would think that I would ignore them easily and just get on with what I feel is best for me. But interestingly, I can’t: I actually feel guilty at the idea of going to a private school!

This is not making my life any easier. The good news is I have till the end of April before I get the answer from the scholarship trustees. So I have a month to meditate on my dilemma. I am starting to feel that unless I win the lottery, going to the public college would be the most sensible thing for me to do.

And in the middle of all this heavy thinking, I realised a little while ago that I miss working with wood. I have only had one course in February to make my coffee table, but I enjoyed it so much that I am now craving for more. Courses of that kind are expensive. I am trying to save money, not spend it on things that I will learn in September once in college. I miss the smell of the workshop: the wood, the tools, the background noise, even the dust. I have found a little workshop that will be able to cut me some planks of thin wood which I will attempt to assemble into a box. So with my poor choice of personal tools, I shall attempt to create a small work of wooden art on my own… ok so I may ask my carpenter neighbour for a few pointers… but still: I am all excited about this little project.

I am not a difficult person to please: just give me some planks of wood and I’ll be happy!