This is turning out to be quite a remarkable story, at least as far as I am concerned. What is even better is that the story is still unfolding. Who knows what the next chapter has in store? But before we get into all of that, let's have a look back over a few months in 2003. Sorry if it's a bit long-winded.
The Working Holiday-
In July 2003 the British High Commission to South Africa announced that the maximum age for the "Working Holidaymaker" visa programme was to increase from 27 to 30 years. There were certain other changes being made to the programme, such as the removal of restrictions on the type of work that holidaymakers could do. The new rules were to take effect from August 25. This was very important to me because it meant that I would become eligible, albeit for a very short time only.
Prior to this there had been a steady stream of rumours in the media suggesting that a change to the rules was coming. People in the travel industry mostly dismissed the rumours, saying that similar rumours had been doing the rounds for several years.
For me it was mostly irrelevant; I had always been too old. It was only after my 28th birthday that the age limit had been lifted from even lower. It didn't bother me that I might have missed out on something, it was simply an avenue that wasn't open to me. By the time the July announcement was made I was in two minds about applying. I'm not one for great change, and I was happy and stable, had a good job and was well established in Pinetown.
I was also stagnant and bored. I thrive on challenges and really, Pinetown was hardly challenging. By the time August 25 came along I was ready for adventure! But now this is where things become interesting. My 31st birthday was on September 12 and the rules were that I had to arrive before my 31st birthday. That gave me three weeks to apply, get my visa and arrive.
The next dilemma was that I was halfway through a development project at work and there was no way I could complete it in three weeks. My employer and I eventually agreed that I would stay until the end of the year. That would also be enough time to tie up my activities at Highway Radio and train people to take over my roles in the two organisations. But I would still have to arrive in the UK before September 12 and spend a quick week visiting friends. After the initial arrival you can pretty much come and go as you please.
My application was completed and submitted over the weekend before Monday August 25. The idea was to get into the queue as soon as possible because of the birthday limitation. A bit of a nailbiting wait for the next few days, putting up with the understaffed British High Commission in Pretoria. I couldn't book a flight yet because the application could still be turned down. Yet the longer I left it the harder it would be to get a flight.
There is a whole sub-plot that could go in here about my flight booking, but it would really draw out the action so I'm leaving most of it out. By Thursday, having not heard anything about my application, I was about to take a chance and confirm my pre-booked flight (if I was turned down I could at least have a week long holiday), when word came through that the application was successful. No chance-taking needed, I confirmed the flight.
It turns out not many people like flying on September 11. I guess the terrorist attacks in 2001 brought out people's superstitions. That is probably how I was able to get a flight at such short notice, especially during the busy season.
I arrived in London on September 11, the day before my birthday and the very last day that I was actually still eligible for entry under the Working Holidaymaker visa programme. I don't know what might have happened had the flight been delayed by a day or cancelled. I had a delightful if brief holiday with the very last week of probably the best weather Britain has had in several years, and met up with numerous friends along the way.
The most remarkable part of this story so far is the three week window I had to apply and arrive in the UK, that it all worked out. It could have so easily gone against me. The British government might have decided to wait a week until September 1 to implement the new rules, in which case there wouldn't have been enough time to pull it off before my birthday.
I reckon I must have been sent here for a reason. It will be exciting to find out what that reason is!
Top: Dale's UK Adventure