'Our future hope is to live in the same place for the first time’
Reporter Michelle Blade spoke to author and blogger Peter Humphreys about being separated from his wife during the pandemic
A Lancaster-based author is thousands of miles away from his wife in Argentina after they were separated due to her UK visa application being stalled by lockdown.
Peter Humphreys, who combines a job at Lancaster University with freelance writing and editing, has not seen his wife since February, when they were on a trip to Argentina where his wife is from.
Peter said: “It has been really tough, but because we’re from opposite sides of the world we have experienced lengthy separations before.
“The worst thing this time has been the uncertainty.
“We usually have a date set for our next meeting – even if that’s a couple of months away.
“We video call, text and exchange emails with links to artists who have inspired us, or news stories from our parts of the world.
“My wife has mastered English since we met, while my Spanish is slowly improving.
“Our main ambition is simply to live in the same place and make a home together.
“The travelling can be fun but it’s also exhausting, and bad for the planet.
“We have started to collaborate on some animations together and are hoping to be able to do this in person soon.
“Ana has just taken in a rescue cat so we’re hoping she can travel to the UK too if the visa is granted!”
Peter said the couple’s hope for the future is that they can live in the same place, for the first time.
“Our creative projects are important to us but neither of us are seeking fame and fortune,” he said.
“The main thing is continuing our journey together.
“Ana loves Lancaster – especially its historical side – and has enjoyed the time we’ve spent together here, so we hope to settle in Lancaster for the foreseeable future, if the visa is granted.
“Ana first applied for the visa last year but the application was rejected because, as her sponsor, I’d misunderstood an aspect of the financial requirements. If you pay extra, UK visa applications can be processed in a month and that is what we’ve done both times.
“Some people hire a lawyer to check the complicated application form, but as the process is already so expensive we decided against this.
“We are now more familiar with Home Office requirements and were more confident of success this time, before the virus arrived.”
Peter first met Ana Rebolledo in Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, in January 2018.
Peter said: “She was backpacking around the continent and I was attending the Hay Cartagena literary festival.
“We got talking on the roof terrace of the hotel we both happened to be staying at.
“We decided to go and listen to some poetry together, but misread the festival schedule and ended up listening to a very long and bad-tempered political discussion instead!”
Peter and Ana have split their time between Lancaster and Buenos Aires over the last couple of years.
Peter said: “I hadn’t visited Argentina before meeting Ana and now Buenos Aires has become a second home. I find it fascinating.”
Ana is 36 and works as an animator, illustrator and video editor.
She has also worked as a teacher in one of Buenos Aires’ more deprived neighbourhoods.
Her dad runs a bookshop in Patagonia, where Ana is from.
Peter explained how Argentina was very strict with how it dealt with the pandemic.
“There has been a lockdown in place since March 20, which is gradually easing now,” he said.
“At first, Ana couldn’t go out to exercise in Buenos Aires – people were only allowed out for shopping and medical treatment. There have been around 8,000 confirmed cases and less than 400 deaths in the country.”
During lockdown as well as keeping in touch with Ana as much as possible, Peter has been writing a blog to help him cope with everything.
He said: “I find writing in any form gives me comfort – I’ve kept a diary for many years.
“Blogging gives me the opportunity to share my experiences and connect with readers, writers and anyone curious about my travels. Like many writers, I’m used to hiding myself away for long periods so can handle the isolation with the help of technology.
“But I miss my weekly games of football and visiting Lancaster’s amazing pubs with friends.”
Shortly after returning home from Argentina, Peter launched his debut novel, Hong Kong Rocks (Proverse) at the Gregson Centre in Lancaster.
Peter said: “My plan was then to continue promoting the book around the north west, and in my former home of Hong Kong. None of that could happen because of lockdown.
“I’ve always loved writing and this is actually the fifth book I’ve completed.
“When I started Hong Kong Rocks I knew I would be returning to the UK soon, so I wanted the book to be both a love letter to the home I was leaving after six years and a way of highlighting some of the issues facing my Hong Kong friends and colleagues.
“My last few years there were spent on Cheung Chau, a car-free island a ferry ride away from the city.
Peter’s book took around two years to write and edit. Hong Kong Rocks is a thriller told from a mix of viewpoints, some local and some expat.
“Ironically, it also deals with our right to call somewhere home,” he said.
“What if the place you’ve called home for years no longer wants you?
“What if the place you were raised is becoming unrecognisable to you?
“Is it still home?”
Peter was born on the Wirral where he attended Calday Grange Grammar School. He is 46 and works as a freelance editor and part-time project exchange officer at Lancaster University. Previously, he lived in Manchester for 12 years where he studied for an MA in Creative Writing at MMU and worked for the British Council, helping the UK build relationships with a variety of countries.
He said: “I’ve been lucky enough to travel to quite a few places. Before Hong Kong, I lived in Washington DC for almost a year and have also been to a few more unusual destinations like Sierra Leone, Namibia and Myanmar.
“Like many others, I’ve appreciated anew my family and friends – most of whom are isolated with their partners, and are quick to sympathise with our situation as well as offering their unconditional support. My advice to couples in a similar situation would be to be patient and realise that video conversations are great but no substitute for the real thing.
“Misunderstandings can happen and arguments flare up quickly – with no opportunity to make up in person later.
“Like any separated couple, we are dealing with a lot of stress so it’s essential to remember what brought you together in the first place, and be kind. Simple things, like preparing our food together at the same time, become delicious pleasures when you’re so far apart.”
The couple hope to be together by June 17 to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
l Peter’s book can be found on Amazon by visiting https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/9888491725/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0.
His long-running blog can be read at https://theworddiver.wordpress.com/2020/05/04/82-everythings-a-bit-odd-finding-your-feet-in-lockdown-as-a-non-essential-writer/.