A VERY BRITISH WELCOME


I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about living in Bim. But sometimes, for reasons well beyond my control, I do reluctantly have to leave paradise. We are all here in freezing London for a few weeks. All except our Jack, who would be quarantined for six months if he tried to enter the UK. The Husband has some work here and claimed he could not manage a month without his family. The vows I took did mention something about till death, blah, blah, blah. However, any application of the rules of statutory interpretation would suggest he is pushing his luck asking us to leave Barbados when it is at its most glorious to spend a month in cold, damp, windy, grey London. A month in some Tuscan village during the balmy month of June…now that’s a whole different proposition. Then it would be my wifely desire, nay duty, to stand by my man.

On the bright side, London at any time offers the chance to enjoy the company of friends I have missed so much and to vacuum up some cultural offerings. For the kids it is sushi heaven. And our house here is still a home – only things are not quite the same. Every time something falls on the floor I rush to pick it up before Jack tries to chew it. But Jack does not live here. And many of our favorite things no longer occupy their familiar places. Second Born, for example, insisted life was not worth living unless he had his piano. So we shipped the piano to Barbados. Then The Husband was missing his favorite chair. So that got shipped. And so it went on with each of us missing some essential object, like books, or a favorite painting, to make Barbados feel more like home. Now we are back in London many of the essential things we thought signified home have been transported to the small rock. We are left with a house that feels by turns both heimlich and unheimlich. It is time to let go and move on with our lives.

We have however brought our personal ray of Bajan sunshine with us. Andre has made his first long haul flight and arrived in the UK to have a vacation and to help a little with the boys while I make some artwork. He almost did not come. First we had to persuade him that the odds of the plane crashing were less than him dying in a car crash. The poor love apparently did not sleep a wink during the flight for fear of flying. Then he arrived at Gatwick on one of the coldest March days ever. Even with my dad’s winter coat on he said his private bits felt they had abandoned him. We sent a driver to meet his 6 am flight and bring him quickly to our warm home. But the immigration authorities had other ideas.

Apparently a black, male, Barbadian cannot ordinarily enter the UK. One with a paid return ticket, a family back in Barbados, a place to stay in London, a professional British family sponsoring him and vouching for all his expenses, may only enter after being cross-examined, in a hostile manner, for FOUR hours. During this time they also phoned The Husband and gave him the third degree. How much did he earn? When did he buy the house in London? On what basis is he British?

During his four hours in the tender care of the UK authorities Andre said he was very cold and asked if he could have a hot cup of tea or coffee. They refused. He asked if he could be moved to a warmer room. They refused. When he started to walk around to keep warm he was firmly told to sit quietly on the hard bench. Finally he asked if he could just use his return ticket or his cash to get the #@*% out of this country on the next flight, his desire to see Buckingham Palace and Chelsea Football ground having evaporated. At that point they said they were minded to let him enter the UK but if he stayed even a day over his visa they “would come and find him”. Welcome to Britain. One wonders if a young, male, Australian backpacker, with little money, and no idea where they would be spending that night, would be subject to the same welcome.

After such an awful start we have been trying to make it up to him by introducing him to the wonderful English people we know – all of whom are appalled that the immigration service should carry out their job in such a zealous fashion and with such a lack of basic human decency. The weather has not helped and within a day of his arrival it started to snow. I thought he would pack his bags there and then. Instead I heard him whooping,
“Snow! Snow! I didn’t tink I go see snow! Persaud, where yuh? Leh we go outside!”
I declined. However he and the little ones bundled up with scarves and gloves and played with snow falling around them for the better part of an hour.

Things have steadily improved. Andre is no longer wearing a woolly hat and scarf inside the house. He has even been coaxed into a little sightseeing and the odd museum. The past few days he has been to stay with a family he knows in Canterbury. After visiting Chaucer’s old stomping grounds, and seeing new lambs being born on a farm, he has decided England isn’t half bad. Given what he’s been through I doubt I would have been as forgiving.

1 comment:

Living in Barbados said...

It's always a pain when a an innocent you have to face the immigration people acting with "gusto". But looked at from the perspective of "trying to keep fraudsters out" there can be a point. Imagine what would have happened if someone at the GAIA here in Bim had asked a few such questions of the Ghanaians who were "left behind" by their charter company. Now, several million dollars later some government is having to pay for them to be sent back.

Also, knowing from my working experience the scams that get created in Africa and some Caribbean countries to get people into lovely Britain, or the wonderful US, or princely France, it's also clear that a lot of scrutiny is warranted. Once in it's near impossible to find someone (despite what the official threatened). Anyway make sure that Andre understands that it's not personal. He got in. Lots of treats for him to come I'm sure.