Last Latte in London

September 27th, 2006 at 8:49 pm by james

I have consumed my last latte and commuted my last commute (for a little while at least). Now all we have to do is move …

On Monday someone from the consular section of the South African Embassy phoned Michelle to let her know that the girls’ travel documents were ready: would we like him to post them to us or would we like to come and collect them? Michelle weighed things carefully in her mind:

  • the fact that we’d been waiting five weeks for documents ostensibly issued “on day of application”
  • the fact that we were moving out of our house in two days after which we’d be wandering the countryside for a few days before
  • leaving the country in seven days

“We’ll come and fetch them please.”

The appointment was for between 3 and 4 today, so after doing the farewell speaching thing (which I enjoyed, although I was terribly terribly tempted to ramble on indefinitely just to see if people stayed to listen) and having had a final lunch with my team I headed off to the Consular Section.

Now you need to understand the depth of angst I feel about dealing with the Consulate. In my mind they are absolutely in the same class as pedlars of computer equipment and cheap suits. They have a simple product – one I understand completely – but they feel obligated to behave as though they’re practicing a dark art. In the case of Consular operations my feelings stem from a holiday trip in the course of which my family were turned back again and again from the (figment of the apartheid imagination) border control between the Transkei and the Eastern Cape. Some fat, half-witted child of the regime took a dislike for whatever reason and just wouldn’t let us through, sending us 100 miles home each time to fetch other documents. I remember the impotent rage of the experience and realising that they can do pretty much whatever they want – to help or hinder – provided there is a scrap of a reason to do so. Just like pedlars of computer equipment and cheap suits.

My feelings are doubtless unfounded in this modern age – the regime has crumbled and been replaced with a well-oiled bureaucracy. It may be a glistening machine gorging itself on an economy trying valiantly to support it, but at least it’s staffed by people who seem to want to be there. That earlier border post was probably the South African Customs Services equivalent of a posting to Siberia …

Anyhoo … back to the story. I duly queue up on Whitehall, wondering what would transpire and swapping stories with other queuers. The consensus, if you’re interested, seems to be that the best way to contact the consulate is to fax them your mobile number with your query. They don’t seem to answer the phones and don’t respond to email. Eventually it was my turn:
“Hello, I’ve come to pick up emergency travel documents for my daughters. My name’s Adlard.”
“Just a moment, sir. Adlard, adlard, adlard …” [fades into distance]
[eventually returns]“Mr Adlard!”
“Yes?”
[Lo-o-o-ong pause while my palms sweat and he concentrates on carefully cutting out a section from a piece of paper with a very large pair of scissors.]
“Your papers were posted yesterday. Here are your tracking numbers. You understand I can’t give you the whole piece of paper because it has other people’s names on it.”

It took me about a quarter of a second to process the “Is it worth making a fuss about this?” question. I winked at him and said, “Thank you!” with a smile on my face. I hope I made his day.

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