UK Border blues
So there I was, ecstatic at getting a new contract back in the UK for the first time in four years. The tides of fate had taken me away from the UK to Ireland and thence to Denmark, so it was with a mixture of joy and trepidation that I accepted the contract. My previous contract in Denmark was terminated suddenly. Apparently bosses don’t like being told that they don’t know what they’re doing. Who knew?! My only concern, besides having to pack up yet another load of accumulated possessions and find a place to store them, was the visa for Frank so that he could accompany me to England. But, as luck would have it, I had had the foresight to apply for a spouse visa for him for the UK that would last two years. I almost selected the 5-year visa, but that cost in the region of £900 in comparison to £550 for the 2-year visa. I figured that 2 years would be enough to take care of any upcoming visits to Blighty. The visa was therefore no problem. He had cart blanche to be in the UK. In addition to the UK visa Frank had also acquired, without mess or fuss (or cost!), an EU residence permit for Denmark. Technically, with the UK being an integral part of the EU, he should be allowed in on the strength of the EU card alone, but the UK government in their paranoia insist on an additional visa….which we had. Job done, you might say.
“All those who think their partner will be allowed into the UK please step forward……NOT YOU, KEVIN!” And so it was as Frank approached the immigration officer at Gatwick airport. I had to follow the EU passports queue, while Frank had to join the long line of non-EU hopefuls. I had told him to tell them we would be in the country for 90 days…the length of my contract. The mistake was in telling them I would be working in the UK. This apparently accords me the status of being ‘settled’ in the country regardless of whether I am in the country for just three months or for the rest of my life. “In that case”, said the immigration officeress, “he has the wrong visa. He has to apply for the right visa from outside the country.” You can imagine our panic and consternation. I approached the bench and tried to negotiate with the woman, but she was insistent that the visa I had purchased for £550 was now null and void! I was picturing Frank and I both flying back to Denmark and me giving up the contract, but thankfully our friendly immigration officer had the presence of mind to have us wait while she conferred with her manager. She returned five minutes later and announced that she would give Frank a 6-month visa, but that if he left the country he wouldn’t be allowed back in!
We thanked her profusely and made our way hurriedly to the baggage hall before she changed her mind. I figured that, if worst came to worst, we could always smuggle Frank onto a pirate ship from some beach in a secluded cove in Cornwall. The only problem is that pirate ships don’t hang around Cornwall any more as they did in days of old. We found our two suitcases standing forlornly in the middle of the baggage reclaim area. We had spent so much time at immigration that the other passengers from Denmark had long since collected their luggage, made their way to London, given birth to children and started successful businesses. Our first stop after exiting customs was to make our way to the Cornish Pasty shop near the train station. How I had missed these gluten-laden delights with their meat and two veg filling. Pies are not top of the list on Danish menus and Cornish pasties are unheard of in Denmark. My initial trepidation at returning to the UK was already beginning to be eroded by something as simple and joyful as a Cornish Pasty. I explained to Frank how the Cornish miners used to take a pasty down the mine every day for their lunch. The story goes that some pasties would be made with half savoury filling and the other half a sweet filling such as apples. For the miner this would be a full meal including dessert. Not bad for one little pie. How did they know which half to eat first? Simple. The pasties were made for either left or right-handed miners and they would eat the closest side of the pie first.
On buying tickets for the train, we were told that the rail service was disrupted due to some expansion of the lines or staff training, so we would have to take a bus to Reigate and from there a train to Swindon. Hundreds of disoriented tourists milled around, uncertain where to go next. There was no place to sit and wait and not much more place to stand while waiting for the bus. Any trepidation that had been erased by the pasty was immediately restored by memories of the British transport systems, which are less than reliable. When we finally made it to the train and I found standing room next to our suitcases, I watched the English countryside fly by and knew that it was worth all the effort just to be able to revel once more in the green hills and dales of England while breathing in the intoxicating aroma of curry.
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