Friday, then, was London. Up at you-have-to-be-joking o’clock for the shuttle to Heathrow (delayed 20 minutes), in on the Express (delayed 10 minutes), hop over to Oxford Circus on the Bakerloo and thence to Whitfield Street to pick up some documents. In a cab – quick, quick – and so to Aldwych, where an ominously long line snaked around the corner of India House. I knew I should have been there earlier.
Luckily, I’d only been in the line for a few minutes before a charming lady from a central European country I couldn’t quite place (possibly Hungary) asked if I knew that this was the collection line, and new visa applications were around the corner. Oops.
Around the corner I collected a yellow ticket from the booth – number 1360, and they only give out 1500 a day, eek! – ducked inside, went to entirely the wrong room, found the right room, barged through the huddle of people at what appeared to be (and indeed was) the wrong window, and discovered I was about to be called. Er… huh?
Ah. The ticket was ‘B60,’ not ‘1360,’ and I needn’t have worried about the rushing thing. Durr. Still, somebody nabbed my place at the window and I ended up hovering between three others, hoping I’d get in quick when the next ticket was called. The deli-counter style system was up the swannee, but there we go.
Finally, I got to thrust my paperwork feverishly under the soundproof glass partition, and make vague guesses at appropriate responses to the questions asked by the polite, patient, and almost entirely inaudible clerk on the other side. The discussion went something like ‘You’re a journalist?’ / ‘No.’ / ‘But you work for a television company.’ / ‘Yes, but I make science programmes, not news programmes. I’m not a journalist.’ / ‘Why are you applying for a business visa rather than a journalist visa?’ / ‘Because I’m not a journalist.’ Matters became even more confused when the clerk noticed that my letter of reference from an organisation in India was from – er – The British High Commission in Delhi.
Ultimately, she passed everything on to the media desk to work out whether they’d have to send me through clearance procedures for journalists, which would, I gathered, take five working days minimum. Ulp. Vague memories of Douglas Adam’s Infocom game Bureaucracy loomed.
I’ve no idea what happened in the next thirty minutes – there may have been phone calls, or perhaps somebody just read the letters and worked out what was going on – but my visa application was approved. Hurrah! So, back to join the mob I’d pushed through near the door, to wait for another inaudible clerk to call my number again.
An hour of that, and eventually that clerk asked if anyone was waiting for the ‘B’s. I was, so I enquired tentatively if he had B60 – yes, it had been there for an hour. Umm… okaaaay. Where did… no, never mind. As the smiling clerk handed my visa-endorsed passport under the glass, he said, ‘Ah, journalist. Have a good trip.’ So now I’m completely confused, since my receipt says I paid for a business visa and it appears to say ‘Type: B,’ but… ach, I’m sure everything’s fine. Yay! I have a visa!
After that, breakfast.
Shortly followed, as it happened, by lunch, loafing around on the waterfront with a chum, only to be rudely interrupted by ruddy great cannons going off repeatedly a few hundred yards downriver. Something to do with someone’s birthday, evidently.
Hop, skip and jump up to Oxford Circus, in good time for my travel clinic appointment. A jolly consultation, stern advice about DEET, dogs, and denghi fever, followed by three jabs, a whacking great bill, and a rattle of antimalarials.
Back to Paddington – missed the Express, quick quick, a bagel, ooh! Pickled chilies! – off to Heathrow, start devouring the Rough Guide…
Felt rough as boots today, unsurprisingly.
Tomorrow: luggage, washing, tying up loose ends. Looks like I fly out Tuesday, back probably next Monday. By which time it may all make sense. Or not.