12 June, 2009

Singapore Arts Festival Blog #2 - "Departure"

Ronan Paterson is currently sitting in Dubai airport. His trip to Singapore hasn't got off to a flying start but alas, he's finally on his way (minus wife, plus son). Read on for our Singapore Arts Festival Blog Entry #2:

This is the day that very nearly didn’t happen. I’m sitting in Dubai airport at 1am, actually in Macdonalds, believe it or not. Now there’s a reason for this...

I should have been in Singapore four days ago. I went off to the airport happy as Larry, accompanied by several large pieces of luggage (so nice not to worry about miserly luggage allowances on budget airlines), and of course accompanied by Beloved Spouse and Mother of My Children. We arrived at Newcastle Airport in plenty of time, went up to the remarkably uncrowded check-in desk, had a pleasant conversation, saw our bags go through, handed over the passports, and as we stood there bantering lightly, the woman on check-in suddenly said “I’d better just check this passport”.

Here, as Shakespeare says, begins my sadness. Now I should tell you, in preamble, that a couple of years ago I inadvertently put my passport through the washing machine. It didn’t damage it too much, it seemed to me, and in the intervening two years I have used it frequently. I have travelled more than fifteen times on four airlines, to seven different countries, and never had a problem. The lady had scanned my passport in perfectly all right, the plastic bit is undamaged in any way, and it scans first time every time. HOWEVER...she was nervous. She called over a supervisor from the airline. Beloved Spouse and Mother of My Children is suddenly very nervous. Over comes Woman in Uniform. “I’m sorry Sir, I can’t accept this passport for travel.” To describe the silence as stunned insults stunning. Stunned, maybe, as in ox in an abattoir, but nothing in my life has ever been quite so... stunned.

B.S.&M.O.M.C is instantly placatory. This woman in the uniform is utterly impervious to anything we try to say. We are taken over to a counter, our luggage is retrieved. W in U explains that we would fly 23 hours to Singapore, only to be refused entry and put back on the plane. The airline would be fined for good measure. Maybe she’s right. BS&MOMC is being very reasonable. (Unreasonably reasonable if you ask me.) She rings the passport office for me. I am put on to a young woman in some central passport appointment booking agency somewhere, probably in London. “We can get you an appointment on Monday, and you’ll have your passport within a week” she says brightly. This is, I carefully explain, about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. “Well, there’s absolutely no other way of doing it” she tells me, “if I were you I wouldn’t even bother. I’m sorry, but if you have to get there this week, the simple answer is, you won’t”. I relay this to W in U. She smiles. “Of course you can” she says “people do it all the time. It happened to a man last week." BS&MOMC takes me away, telling me that W in U has already booked us onto Tuesday’s flight at no charge, and if we can get a passport on Monday morning before 12.30 she’ll bump us onto Monday’s flight. She can’t understand why I am a gibbering wreck. I am led away backwards, at a loss for words for the first time since the Year One School Dance, where a prefect found me hiding in the toilets and made me dance with a GIRL, and that was neither today nor yesterday.

This catastrophe means several things. First of all, I am going to lose four days until I can get onto a flight even IF the passport office can give me a new one, even though they have categorically told me they can’t. Secondly, this means I am going to miss Tadeshi Suzuki, the event in all of the Singapore Arts Festival I was most looking forward to. Thirdly, and this is the worst of all, if the trip is put back, even if they can extend our stay to compensate, BS&MOMC can't come now.

All along, I have wanted her to come with me more than anything else. We’ve never been outside Europe together, as you may recall if you read my last post. I have never ever been in a position to take her anywhere really exotic, I could never afford to take her to somewhere like Singapore, it was going to be the trip of a lifetime. Now she can’t come. She has to get back to work. She moved heaven and earth to clear a week, and has no room to change it now. (She’s frightfully important in her work, you see, far more so than I am in my job). That, I think, is the unkindest cut of all. It nearly breaks my heart to see how well she takes it. When I watch her unpack her suitcase I want to die. She is the innocent party in all of this, and she’s the one who suffers. She was even nice to W in U.

Instead I am going to take my son. No romantic week in Singapore with BS&MOMC, instead I will be there with Son and Heir Who Despises Me. We discuss it frankly. “Dad, I’m sure you’re just going to boil me the whole time we’re there” Long pause. “I’ll probably do the same to you”. Silence gives assent.

I fret through the weekend. Of course we were turned away from the gate too late on a Saturday to get a passport form from a post office before they all closed, and there aren’t any open on Sunday. I have to get a form, get it filled in, get it countersigned and get to Durham, fifty miles away, by 9.30 on Monday morning. I want to give up, but BS won’t let me. On Monday we drive to Gateshead, on the way to Durham, where I know people who can countersign the form, and go into the Post office, which is in a shop. “No, sorry, it doesn’t open until 9am” I intend to give up there and then “but if the woman comes in early I’ll ask her for one for you”. The woman DOES come in early. I run up the street to my in-laws. BS throws one. “She can’t sign it. She’s a relative” “No she isn’t, not of mine...” “She’s a relative by marriage” “How will they know?””It says on the form it’s a criminal offence” Sister-in-law has already filled half the section in. Fortunately Nice Woman in Post Office gave me two, just in case. We have to find someone else to countersign. Frantic phone calls. A neighbour does it. We then drive to Durham, breaking several other laws on the way. We get there two minutes late for my appointment. I race up the stairs, only to be stopped. “Have you got an appointment?” “Yes I have” “It’s just that all the computers have crashed. We can’t guarantee that we can get you a passport today”. I start to laugh. Ronan Paterson, MA. The MA standing, if you hadn’t realised, for Man Accursed.

A nice lady called Kim takes my number and promises to call me if anything changes. I trudge back to the car, disconsolate. BS laughs too. “This is ridiculous”. Just then Kim rings. “ Bring your form in. The computers still don’t work, but we’ll take your form in anyway”. I run back up the stairs again, slightly less sprightly than the last time. Instead of the nice Kim, I am met by a highly suspicious woman. She takes away my tiny little Swiss army knife I brought with me to use the scissors to cut out my photos.”Fair enough” says I “that knife could cut open a nasty envelope”. It may not have helped.

I get the passport in the end, thanks to a lovely lady called Nicola, for whom I wish only good things. As I wait in a queue the man behind the counter is saying to someone ahead of me “your passport scans fine. What’s wrong with it?” I try to blank the comment out of my mind. That way lies despair. Poor Liz in the Festival Office in Edinburgh, who is going through this blow by blow with me, has managed to change the flights, hotel and everything. S &H who DM and I are on the flight in the morning. We go home, and BS packs his case for him. That breaks my heart as well.

Next morning we are at the airport. I won’t believe it until we are on the plane. If reincarnation is true I don’t want to come back as my underpants as I approach the check in. It goes without a hitch. We take off, arrive in Dubai seven hours, two films and about eight meals later, and now we’re waiting to change planes. It’s one o’clock in the morning. S&H was still hungry, despite lavish catering, so now here we are in Macdonalds, (his choice) waiting for our connecting flight to be called. I didn’t tell you, did I, that we go via Dubai. 23 hours. Well, every silver lining has to have its cloud.

In Macdonalds we run into famous Scots poet Wullie Doanuldsen , also on his way to Singapore for the Arts Festival. Some of you may know of him. He sees himself as the natural heir of Dunbar, Henryson and the Makars. Others see him more as the Natural Child of William McGonagall and Irving Welsh. He hears my story and contributes the following:

Ye micht think that a lang-hau’ flight’s a bonny way tae travel
But if ye dinnae watch yersel’ yer plans can soon unravel.
On Sunday ye were stuck at hame wi’ affspring young and pleukey
Ye thocht ye’d be in Singapore wi’ Tadeshi Suzuki.
The next time that ye go awa’ ye micht no’ be sae lucky
Sae dinnae wash yer passport ,son, even if it’s mucky.

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