One of the problems about working in USA is that you have to have a work visa. The visa in my passport had expired at the end of February 2017 but I had started the process of applying for a Green Card in September 2016. Indeed in May 2017 the Immigration authorities had taken the $1500 from my bank account which signified that my application had been successful. All that remained was for the Green Card itself to be sent to me. I had been sent another EAD document which extended my right to work and I was informed, gave me rights to return if I left USA. Once I discovered this I booked my flights.
I had not visited UK since August 2016 when I returned for the wedding of my brother Richard to Camille. It had been a long time of enforced separation so I was determined to spend as much time with family as I could.
So the late evening of 13 November found me at Tampa airport. I had been able to leave my car with a friend from the choir who had then dropped me at the airport. Everything went smoothly and I touched down on time the following morning. On arriving at the Avis desk to collect a car I was greeted by the same person with whom I had experienced difficulties two years earlier. This was a repeat performance from him but I managed to escape without spending too much more money.
Having located the car it took me a further 20 minutes to discover how it started! I got used to returning to the gear stick and an hour later I was welcomed by my mum in Kingston-on-Thames. Later that evening we were joined by brother Chris and his wife Sue.
The following day I bought my first oyster card so that I could use trains and buses. My niece Bethan, such a modern girl, could not believe I had waited this long for such a pleasure. My brother Pete dropped in for the evening on Wednesday. It was great to see him and to hear an update on his family.
During the late morning of Thursday I drove north. My first stop was Nuneaton where I enjoyed a lunch of fish and chips before meeting up with old teaching friends, Steve and Carol. They had down-sized since I last met them but it was a great space. We walked into the village for a pint and returned to a wonderful boeuf bourgignon. The next morning I continued my journey to Sheffield where I visited my lettings agents to complain about lack of communication. When I got to the office one of several staff there said “How can I help”. I replied “Thank you that was the first response I have had from this office in 2 years”. I don’t think this was exactly what they expected but it had the desired effect and I am now a happier chappie. Having collected the keys I returned to my house where the tenants let me in and I was able to extract some organ music and several bottles of gin. Then I visited the Diocesan Pastoral Centre where I had hoped to remove some books from a spiritual library I had loaned the diocese on my departure. I chatted with staff there and continued on to a house in Hackenthorpe where a friend Kieran would accommodate me for the weekend.
I spent Friday afternoon in Sheffield. It was good to see the cathedral and particularly how the organ was progressing. I recalled that Fr Chris had instructed me back in August 2011 to have the organ removed from the building within 3 weeks. He had refused to entertain all advice that it would be OK to leave there as long as it was adequately wrapped in plastic to protect it from the builders dust etc. His decision prevailed and the cathedral was then tied into the cost of special storage for the next 6 years! The organ restoration would probably only have taken a few months of dedicated work finishing with the gradual re-assembly in the cathedral. Of course time will tell whether there needs to be any modification of the historic organ case due to the change in floor levels after the building programme!
Whilst I was there I was able to meet several old friends who were gathering for Mass. The celebrant from India was unknown to me but turned out to be a fine presider and seemed very embracing of the assembly. I learned later that this was one of his last Masses there as he became another in a list of ordained refugees fleeing the cathedral.
In the evening I met up with friends Ali, Pippa, Peter, Helen and Gary in a local bar and subsequently a local restaurant. A fine time was enjoyed by all. You just take up where you left off with real friends, don’t you? Back in Hackenthorpe Kieran isisted that the night was yet young so bottles were opened.
On the Saturday morning I met up for a chat over coffee with members of the cathedral choir and Hugh Finnigan and then followed them to the cathedral for a ‘Thank you Mass’ for volunteers. I had always wondered in the three years since my departure whether Fr Chris would have learned how to say ‘thank you’. He did seem to find it difficult and particularly when it came to thanking particularly a group of volunteer musicians whom he had unexpectedly and inexplicably ‘sacked’ only a few weeks earlier!
After Mass I held court in a local bar as a procession of friends kept ‘appointments’ with me. It was great to see Peter and Jenie of the Iona Community, friend Greg and my brother Andy who came down from Durham. When these had departed I tried to contact another friend but to no avail so I rang a local priest who had been very supportive of me when I needed it. His organist was ill so 25 minutes later I was playing for the Vigil Mass!
Since I did not need to visit the cathedral for Sunday Mass I decided to drop in on my friend Emily who runs the music in a church in Leicester. I sneaked in at the back as the service began and really enjoyed it. Emily was always a great pianist but this was the first time I’d heard her play the organ. I was not at all disappointed and she even regaled us with an organ voluntary at the end.
After the service I became embroiled in the shifting of benches, the guiding of blind people and the drinking of instant coffee (the real stuff having run out!). Then I followed Emily back to her ‘new’ pad which had been correctly described as an ‘upside down house’ with the living room above the bedroom and toilet. We had real coffee and a good chat before venturing out for a Sunday dinner at a local Wetherspoons. I was to meet up for another meal at my brother Chris’ later so I left around 4.30pm and joined the traffic heading for London. Another fine meal followed and I returned home with mum, leaving my car at Chris’!
I spent much of Monday with my mum and HRH Elizabeth and Philip celebrating their 70th anniversary. The following day I visited a friend in Old Windsor whom I had not been able to visit for 4 years. Letters are great but the banter is better!On my way home I stopped at St George’s College, Weybridge where I had gone to school. I was shown around the school for a while before meeting with three of the resident priests who remembered me. Later that evening I drove mum to meet up with brother Richard, his two girls and his wife Camille at Bill’s Restaurant in Guildford.
On Thursday I visited Veronica Robbins in Whiteley Village. I had worked with Veronica while I was Director of Music under Fr Kevin Donovan SJ at St Ignatius, Stamford Hill. There was much conversation to be rehearsed and then she showed me the estate which was the result of philanthropy at the start of the 20th century. Hours passed very quickly before I had to return to Kingston. Later that evening my last in UK my mum and I joined Chris and Sue in the Glasshouse for a simple meal accompanied by fine wines and whiskies!
The Friday morning found me saying a fond farewell to my mum as I headed for the airport. I had not been able to check-in the previous day so I feared the worst. Having dropped off the car with no problem I headed for check-in and found one. They determined that the visa in my passport had expired and although I had a card which proved my eligibility to work in USA I had no document which explained my visa status. I applied and paid for an ESTA at the airport and an hour later was able to pass through. The journey to Tampa was uneventful and because I found myself with a row to myself it was also comfortable and undisturbed. On arrival at Tampa I had to undergo secondary security checks but it was not long before I was free! I was collected from the airport my Mary from the choir and reunited with my Nissan Rogue in which I drove home. I stopped at the local for a quick one before turning the key of Knollview Drive and finding peace at last. A great trip to family and friends!