|This is not my brother. This is Miss Belize. She is a damn sight better looking.|
‘He forgot his Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate.’ It was Marcia on the phone. ‘They’ve arrested him’.
Oh. That’s a bit of a nuisance.
Some of you may be wondering why I wasn’t at the airport to pick up my own brother. After all, he only visits once every three years so I could at least have made the effort, couldn’t I? Quite simply, it is the length of time it takes to get a visa renewed here in
Mine expired last December and the stupid little bit of paper they give
us, the Talão, the receipt, has long since disintegrated. I was once detained and held for a whole day
because my driving licence, which was also made of paper and spent its time
being sat on by my invariably sweaty arse, was illegible Angola
So I had been faced with a choice. Leave for the airport a day early to allow time to get nicked, argue and then buy my freedom at any one of the three checkpoints between here and the city or send Marcia to collect my brother on her own.
As much as I felt bad about my brother, who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese, being lifted at Angola’s international airport for want of a bit of paper and me not being there to either help or get banged up with him, I know that Marcia is one girl with her head screwed on straight.
Now this got me thinking. Last time I went to
, I took my son Dominic with me so
he could meet his uncle, his great aunts and his great grandmother. Dominic has an Angolan mother and a British
father, just like Alex. Unlike Alex,
though, Dom wasn’t travelling with his mother in whose passport he was
included. If he left Germany on his British passport, he would
need a visa to get back in again. Either
that or the Angolan passport I had been bugging his mother, my estranged wife
to get. Of course she didn’t because she
is a lazy, dizzy stupid thing, one of the reasons why finally exasperated
beyond belief, I walked out on her.
So Marcia, I and the kids left Angola for Angola and then Belgium Dominic on his Germany with passport which gave his mother
precisely three weeks to get his Angolan passport and DHL it to UK so she could have him back. Of course, she didn’t because she is a lazy,
dizzy stupid thing but I think we have already covered that. Germany
All she managed, the night before we were to return, was a faxed copy of his newly issued Angolan passport.
We caught the ICE train from
to Stuttgart Frankfurt, me lugging the proceeds of a well
melted Platinum American Express Card and then caught the flight to .
People wax lyrical about
say that Brussels is the forgotten secret of Belgium Europe.
I say it has been forgotten for a reason. For me, it’s no more than a sign indicating a
turn off to utter boredom on the motorway through it to .
It is an anomaly, two provinces, one that really belongs to France and
the other to Germany . It is
dull, characterless and I am only mildly impressed that it is the only country
in the world with its entire motorway network illuminated at night. Ainda bem (good) as we say in Holland .
Means I can keep my foot buried into the carpet of whatever car I am
driving. The only international speeding
tickets I have ever been awarded have been from irate Angola policemen. I am not talking about on-the-spot fines,
I’ve had loads of those. What I mean are
the kind where all the resources of Interpol are used to track you down. The
Belgians, in fact, got so pissed off with everyone racing through their country
as fast as possible, rather than stopping to take a look around, that they
started confiscating the cars of those who exceeded their national speed limit
by what they considered an excessive amount.
They tried that with me once. I think they were really annoyed with me because, having checked my rear view mirror when I heard the siren and noting that it was only a bloody Volvo, and realising that it was only 20 clicks to the French border, I went for it. I never found out what they had under their bonnet but it certainly wasn’t laid back Swedish furniture. They were very polite, I’ll give them that, as they slapped the cuffs on and very sympathetic when I told them I was late for a funeral, this filthy lie made more credible by the sight of my dress uniform complete with medals draped over my suitcase so it would not be crumpled. So they let me go pointing out, though, that I would be summoned to appear in court in
to face the music. I did receive a summons eventually and, of
course, failed to appear. After all, no
chocolatiere in a fancy uniform and an unsportingly fast Volvo can boss an
Englishman around. I was a cadet at Brussels Sandhurst at the time so it would have been
bloody awkward asking for leave to attend a court case when I had signed a
declaration saying I had no convictions or outstanding summonses at the start
of the course. It was unbelievably bloody awkward when the
police turned up. Still, the vast
majority of coppers, be they British, French, German, Scandinavian or even
Belgian, are decent honest folk just doing their jobs. Being human, of course, this leaves them open
to scum like me and they bought my excuse that not speaking either Flemish or French
(yet another shameful lie) I had innocently been left with the impression I had
been let off with a caution.
Knowing I might have a teensy weensy problem at check in, I encouraged the family to be ready for an early start but we all beat the wake up call I had booked but never came, we were so keen to get out of the hotel and enjoy the relative comfort of a check in queue instead. If there is such a thing as a nice hotel in
, I remain sadly ignorant of
it. Even my Grandfather would split the
journey back to Belgium when he was taking us to see our
father by overnighting on the German side of the England Ardennes before pushing his Mercedes flat
out through the next day. But that could also be something to do with
the fact that the last time he overnighted in Belgium , he was leading a column of German
panzers proving that if you are part of a Blitzkrieg, advance bookings aren’t
strictly necessary. Belgium
The check in clerk was not impressed with Dominic’s British passport, sans Angolan Visa, the faxed copy of his Angolan passport nor his Angolan birth certificate. A really alarming case of ‘the computer says no’. ‘You can all travel,’ she said helpfully indicating us adults and the infant Alexander, ‘but the boy has to stay’.
‘You agree there is no doubt this boy is an Angolan citizen?’ I asked through very clenched teeth.
‘Yes, but where is his passport?’
‘You are holding it in your hand’
‘This is a British passport and there is no visa, I cannot check him in unless he has an entry visa for the country of destination’
‘Even if he is obviously a resident of the country of destination?’
I lost my temper. She called security.
The security man was very nice. They are trained to be nice while they check the safety on their Glocks and make sure the Tazer is charging nicely in its holster.
He admitted that this was an unusual situation, bizarre even. He agreed it was ludicrous that the rules prevented them boarding a boy who so obviously had the right of domicile in the country of destination. He also politely alluded to parents who failed to recognise the fairly simple rules governing international travel, a principle requirement of which was a valid passport or visa for the country of destination, and that a mosaic of loosely interconnected documentation, no matter how pretty, just wouldn’t cut it. And he said all that in English. I thought I could not have been more stunned if he had ordered one of his two bruiser like side kicks to Taser me but then he went on.
‘Why don’t you phone someone in Angola, anyone, and get them to get Angolan Immigration to send a note to us, or our office in Luanda saying the boy will be granted entry?’
I was about to dive in there and protest that this was a Sunday so who the hell could I call and who the fuck would be around in Angolan Immigration to send a note on a day they would all be down the beach when my ire was stayed.
‘In the meantime’, he said to the check in staff, ‘Check these bags through on white tags, the customer will have about two hours to sort this out and if he doesn’t, we can intercept him and his family at the gate’.
Customer? Not Shitbag, nor ‘This Irritating Arsehole’, but Customer. Marcia had been bashing the plastic so we were about an elephant over our baggage limit but it all slid off down that conveyor belt into the unknown and we proceeded to the lounge. Clearly, I had just bumped into God and for once in my life, I hadn’t pissed him off.
I thought I had arrived in heaven when I tucked into the free booze in the lounge, albeit still nervous about us getting on the plane but then I realised this was just a rest stop before Nirvana.
A rather tall, distinguished looking gentleman approached introducing himself as the Chief Executive of Brussels Airlines. He was accompanied by a rather svelte looking guy the sight of whom caused Marcia to leap out of her comfortable armchair and, ignoring both the CEO of an international airline and I a mere mortal, bang on in French with a fluency I never knew she possessed.
‘It’s alright, darling,’ she confessed after they moved on, ‘The Belgian Ambassador has had a word’.
Not only did Marcia have Micky out of the airport in no time, she had customs officials carrying his bags.