Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ferry 'cross from misery

[Chris on the ferry]

[Saturday]

Woke early to do last minute cleaning of the apartment, with the landlord arriving to take keys and return the security deposit at 8.30am. He offered to provide a reference for Bondi at any future place we might care to stay.

After recovering the car from the parking station, we were on the road by 9.15 and at the Calais terminal by 12.30. Unfortunately at this point, things started getting very pear-shaped.

The border control officer was the first hurdle. I was re-entering the UK for the third time for the year. Because they don't stamp your passport on the way out (if they even care to look at it) - or on the way into France - then there is nothing official to show that I haven't actually just been out for an even shorter term. Strike #1 against me. Saying that I was "retired" and financially self-supporting was met with an incredulous "you're too young for that": strike #2. I wasn't able to prove that I wasn't "living and working in the UK" [and how do you prove that?]: strike #3. So I was only admitted for 3 months rather than the standard 6 months. It did not matter that I could show bank statements etc (and the ferry departure log could be checked etc etc). She asked if I had a UK bank account (which I can't obtain unless I have my own residence and/or job in the UK) and I said no for those reasons. "Well how do I access a bank account?" -Just by accessing my accounts back home of course through an ATM. Strike #4 against me.

That took about twenty minutes, with repeated phone-calls and the window sliding shut after "I'll just be a moment". During this time we had angry people in the queue behind us screaming abuse, with one gentleman getting in and out of his car, slamming the door each time.

Next hurdle: the gate for SeaFrance ferry boarding. I said there were two people plus a dog (which is how my ticket had been booked a week before): Bondi's presence inflates the price by about £50 - almost as much as the combined cost of the car & 2 passengers, even though he just sits in the back of the car.

While the boarding pass was being printed, I asked where to go to get Bondi checked through. That was ignored and after I got the pass, I asked again. This time I got reprimanded and told "it was just as well I had declared him there". (Deep breath on my part). I handed over Bondi's pet passport. The agent looked at it for a bit, and then said that he wasn't happy that under "date of microchipping" was the annotation "performed prior to rabies vaccination". This is also written on Bondi's UK importation documentation under which he has previously been cleared, and which is the same document which was used for his re-entry from France by ferry in December. Bondi's microchip precedes the existence of their pet-passport scheme by a year or more.

However, the fact that Bondi's UK-issued documents said that he had been microchipped before his papers and passport were approved, did not satisfy the agent's craving for a date that was before the date of the passport. So even though (1) Bondi could not have had his passport issued unless he fulfilled the requirements; and (2) he had entered the UK twice before with the same documents, the papers did not satisfy the agent's i-dotting before common-sense mentality.

We sat there for about 1/2 an hour while he repeatedly went to confer with colleagues and made phone-calls. Then we were told to go and wait by the side of the road until they heard back from the UK. The agent finished his shift while we waited and when word finally came through, we only had a couple of minutes left before the ferry left. Oh and to caps things off, after all that paperwork, it didn't occur to any of them that they were supposed to scan Bondi to verify that his microchip corresponded to the paperwork. Not one of the 4 people I spoke to there even looked at Bondi (in the back of the car) during the entire hour or so that the matter was being debated.

During all of this waiting, I had plenty of time to work up a fantastic headache. OK I'm through this time, but is this going to be an escalating issue every time I enter the UK? If the inbound officials aren't interested in seeing evidence that I can supply, and instead ask for things which can't be proved, well what's the point?

Once on the ferry things relaxed. Chris and I sat in the front bar and took stupid pictures with our cameras/phones. The red-vinyl of our adjacent seats made their touching arms look curiously like lips, so these "before and after botox" pictures provoked much-needed laughter:

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