Wednesday 8 August 2012

He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has arrived in Angola

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 Angola.  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

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 Germany, 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 Angola 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 Belgium and then Germany with Dominic on his UK passport which gave his mother precisely three weeks to get his Angolan passport and DHL it to Germany 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.

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 Stuttgart to Frankfurt, me lugging the proceeds of a well melted Platinum American Express Card and then caught the flight to Brussels. 

People wax lyrical about Brussels.  They say that Belgium is the forgotten secret of 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 Germany.  It is an anomaly, two provinces, one that really belongs to France and the other to Holland.  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 Angola.  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 Belgium 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 Brussels 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 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 Belgium, I remain sadly ignorant of it.  Even my Grandfather would split the journey back to England when he was taking us to see our father by overnighting on the German side of the Ardennes before pushing his Mercedes flat out through Belgium 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.

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.


  1. My happiest airport moment was landing once at Norwich airport, Norfolk. Not only were there no staff around - absolutely none at all - but the lights were off. Everyone was expecting an ambush or reality-tv cameras at the very least, but there were none. Off the plane (a little turbo prop affair), through a darkened arrivals suite and into my taxi. Welcome back to England.

    My least favourite was Bahrain, where machine guns and fingers on the wall in "the position" were involved, making the simple rubber gloves of San Diego pale into insignificance.

    Please do post again when - if - when - if - when your sibling is released, otherwise I shall get indigestion.

  2. I lead such a dull life.

    I do hope your sibling can get to see you before his visa expires.

  3. One observation, Tom: Losing your temper is ok. Losing your temper when it counts will get you nowhere. I sometimes seethe inside if you held a match to my innards I'd explode. On the outside I am all sweetness and light. Thus the desired result swiftly achieved. Charmed, I am sure, Madam.

    There is plenty I could say on your paperwork dilemmas. Read Orwell or Kafka at an early age to prepare you for Bureau Crazy (as I call it). It will stand you in good stead.

    I will strike a blow for Belgium. A country so flat that, by comparison, even Schleswig-Holstein has (mole) hills. I drive through Belgium on a regular basis. Their (and France's) motorway speed restrictions ridiculous. Metal to the pedal is my motto. I go twice over their speed limit. Not once, not once in twenty years have I been stopped by police. I don't think they give a fuck any longer. Or maybe I am just lucky. But yes, you are right: Flat as a pancake. However, and be fair: Brussels and Antwerp are beauties.

    You speak Flemish? Pull the other one.

    Last question: Since when does a German 'forget' his vaccination certificate when visiting his brother in Angola (of all places)? Germans don't forget. Anything.


  4. Hmmm, you should know how things work by now and never to mess around with Visas for any country, in any airport, any time. But no doubt the lesson is learned.
    To be fair to Belgium, having lived there for a few years, they have generally the best food in the world; Antwerp is lovely; Brussells has some divine architecture; the Ardennes are some of the most beautiful mountains and countryside in Europe if not the world and Bruges is the best preserved medieval town in Europe and one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Just be careful that you don't come down with Gum Syndrome - grumpy old man!

  5. OK, OK but apart from a well lit and maintained motorway network, fabulous architecture, polite policemen, a civilised and friendly population, outstanding food, some excellent beers, world famous chocolates, superb shops, pleasant pedestrian zones, wonderful cafes, beautiful countryside (especially the Ardennes), a rich and varied culture, an astonishing science museum, a huge range of interesting art galleries and other museums, truly memorable hunting, fine horses, high quality guns and rifles, delicate lace, enchanting parks to walk in, tree lines avenues, superb fly and coarse fishing, wonderful ice cream and patisserie, diamonds, a pissing boy and Poirot, I ask you...

    What have the Belgians ever done for us?

  6. I forgot to mention Tin Tin

  7. from the very first sentence...I kind of knew just where it was all going xx

  8. Shit, John, I am supposed to be eccentric, not predictable...

  9. Hehehe, grrrrreat. I just had the worst vacations of my life, trying my wife to get her passport renewed. I spent a full seven days at the registos centrais, the ministy of foreign affairs, listening to my wife and her mother - always good to have the mais velha present to get the necessary respect - talk to these extremely polite but not very smart but even more hardheaded funcionarios of the angolan administration. Of course they had lost critical info that was sent to them from the embassy in our home country but of course it was all our fault and we had to go through a nightmarish bueraucratic process to get her recognized as 'married'. And yeah now I aam sitting in Dubai alone with my daughter because my wife couldnt get her passport in I said worst stay in Angola so far, love the country and alll but the bureaucracy is absolutely catastrophic. Oh yeah, and I wont mention the food ppoisoning I caught and the fever..... Oh well, a vida!



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