Friday, March 19, 2010

UK immigration 2

After my previous post complaining about those friendly boys on our borders you'd think the last thing I'd be doing is travelling abroad again, but that's what I'm doing. And seeing as this is a) last minute, b) at night and c) to Amsterdam I'm expecting more unwanted attention when I come back. Wish me luck when they reach for the rubber gloves...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UK Immigration

A message to UK immigration, not they're likely to read this of course but it'll make me feel better.
Being what your system classifies as a "frequent traveller" does not make me a criminal so I shouldn't be made to feel like one every time I have to pass through one of your miserable ports of entry.
OK, so I have made more than my usual amount of trips in the past six weeks ( Amsterdam, Brugge, Lithuania and The Hague) but all were pre booked with a credit card and not by cash at the last minute using a dodgy motor in the dead of night.
The bastards locked me and my car, not to mention my friend Ian in a search room at Dover for over 40 minutes, asked why I'd been to Lithuania at Stansted and interrogated me at Harwich this morning because I'd been " flagged as a frequent traveller".
I can travel anywhere in Europe stress free but it's only when returning to this miserable country do I wish sometimes I'd never bothered leaving in the first place, thanks to those miserable humourless robots that man our borders.
Bring in the Schengen here!!

Leaving The Netherlands

After saying goodbye to Agnes after our weekend in the Hague together, I found myself with an unwanted and annoying 3 hour wait for my night boat back to the UK. Little did I know I was in for an interesting evening.
After standing still in Rotterdam Centraal for about half an hour trying to decide if I should go early to Hoek van Holland or try to explore the area around the station, I finally decided on the latter. With my overly heavy bag I just wandered the streets around the station trying to find a welcoming pub in which to nurse a beer; a task that was to prove impossible. I also realised what an ugly unwelcoming city Rotterdam actually is. The post war planners I realise had a big job to do but they could not have constructed such an ugly city if they tried. It reminds me of Frankfurt in the sense of the huge skyscrapers everywhere and the pedestrianised centre looks like it's been modelled on Basildon.
After giving up on the pub search, a well timed text message from Agnes told me about a pub in Hoek van Holland near the check in building so I decided to end my time in Rotterdam and head for the Hoek.
On the walk to the station I got that feeling that I was being followed. A feeling confirmed when two Asian men walked too closely to me and began asking the usual questions. Well to cut the story short and not wishing to over dramatise the situation, I followed my instincts and made an abrupt turn into a bureaux de change office where a security guard invited me to wait for a while until they had gone. Problem was he wouldn't let me leave for half an hour as he thought they were still hanging around. I did leave eventually and got to the Hoek and the lovely little 'Torpedoloods' pub where I nursed a beer, read my book and kept thinking I wished I'd headed to the Hoek earlier and avoided all the stress of Rotterdam.
I left the pub and began the short walk to the Stena building when an English car came to a halt in front of me as I was crossing the street, blocking my path. The window came down and the woman driving beckoned me over over, I was surprised to hear a thick Irish accent. " Excuse me Sir?" I was expected to be asked directions but I wasn't. " Would you like a job Sir?" Not the kind of question you expect to be asked by someone in a car in the middle of the night. Taken aback I just said "what kind of job?" At this point the man in the passenger seat leaned over and said in an even thicker accent, " Would you like to stay in Holland and work for me laying Block paving?"
How do you respond to that? I just politely said no and walked on, but when I saw them driving down the car check in lane for the ferry I was booked on, I just thought that wouldn't be the last time I would see them, and it wouldn't be.
On the boat my key card for my cabin wouldn't work so I had to get help from the crew. When he returned the Irish people, now with two kids that I hadn't noticed before were there, immediately opposite my cabin and were experiencing the same issues with the door. I offered to help but luckily they managed to get in before I got too involved.
It was a quiet crossing, hardly any passengers and the bar where I had camped myself with a beer and a book was quiet, until predictably the Irish contingent noisily barged in.
They sat near me and seemed intent on a conversation which was impossible to resist, I was happy with my book, beer and football highlights on the TV. His opening gambit was the same job offer I had received outside, so it was obvious they were all part of the same group.
They asked where I lived and I gave an answer that was as vague as I was comfortable to give without giving them the appearance I didn't want them knowing where I came from. After a while I had realised that they were what the politically correct term would be 'travellers'. They seemed determined to buy me a drink but I refused, I wasn't about to get in a drinking contest with Irish travellers, especially as they were quite advanced in the alcohol stakes already.
One of them, after he'd established roughly where I lived, asked what my job was. I told him I was a nursing assistant and made the mistake of saying I worked in a psychiatric hospital. He then asked me a question that made my blood run cold. A few years ago we had a particularly nasty patient who was part of the traveler community which were particularly hostile to the authorities for keeping him detained. One of the men asked me if I knew a certain person who I won't name. I tried to hide the shock in my expression but failed miserably and had to admit I did. This man was the ex patent's cousin.
I just rattled off a few lines about how I treat people how I find them, that he never caused me any trouble and they seemed to accept this but I was worried what might come of it.
I managed to break away and return to the TV but they were becoming louder and louder the drunker they became and their thick, almost impenetrable accents dominated the air. Now I must say I love a lot of Irish accents but the accent the travellers seem to have was just plain ugly. County Cork is a lovely accent as is County Clare and County Galway, but what I was hearing now was just horrible and irritating.
They seemed determined to prise as much alcohol as possible but were told the bar was closed, probably and wisely a little earlier than usual. They had now taken over the smoking room in the bar and were loudly singing Gaelic songs which everyone could hear and was clearly annoying the bar staff. I was actually quite enjoying it, I love Gaelic music and it made a change from the loud conversation. I have noticed as well with the Irish, it doesn't matter how drunk they are, they always seem to hold a note perfectly when singing ! From nowhere one the Irish men came over and thrust a €100 note in my hand, and from what I could understand he had tasked me with the mission of getting more booze from the bar. Not wishing to get on the wrong side of pissed Irish travellers I reluctantly agreed to try. I then thought how stupid was that? What was stopping them from claiming he'd given me €200? Well the bar staff refused the drink request which meant I had to enter the smoking den to return the money. I managed this but they insisted I sat down. I refused the offer of a beer but I knew I would have to stay for a while listening to drunken Gaelic songs.
I made my excuses and left after about twenty minutes and that was the end of my little Irish adventure, and I can't exactly say a pleasant one.

1st post

Thought I'd experiment with a new blog about some of the unusual moments that happen sometimes when I'm travelling. I enjoy writing so it's probably just to release some of my creative frustration but mainly because I enjoy writing. Comments on anything I write here are most welcome.