June 1994, Zeebrugge
One of the things that was overlooked by my French employers, was the fact that I had no legal right to be working in France. At the interview, I had told them that I did not have a work permit. They were not at all bothered by the admission. Things changed when I needed a new tourist visa. The first step, of what turned out to be quite a saga, was a trip to Brussels to get my documents updated. There, I was informed that I had to go back to the country where the first paperwork had been issued, that being England. As I had only taken a day trip to Brussels and was expected back for work in Paris, I made no further plans and returned there that afternoon.
Things were starting to get complicated. I could not risk going through a French port to get back to London, as my passport had been dated on my way in. It was already over my officially allowed limit of one month. I had never before received an immigration stamp at a ferry terminal. The visa itself was valid for three months, so receiving a stamp on entry, was bad luck.
I had been planning a weekend in London to visit Del and Lindsey for a special event, so decided to combine that with the subterfuge I had in mind. I would enter Belgium again and by leaving from the port at Zeebrugge, would avoid any questions about how long I had been in France. When travelling by train between France and Belgium, passports were rarely checked, so that seemed safe. From there a quick skip to Britain to see my friends and get my new visa would be easy. All went to plan and I had a pleasant night crossing on the ferry to Felixstowe.
I had never before entered England from north of London, so I was surprised at how quiet the port was. There were only two people on duty at immigration and one of them was in a foul mood. I was one of several passengers who were unfortunate enough to be asked forward by Mr Grumpy. After having witnessed tense interviews with some of the others in the queue, I was asked brusquely to stand aside to join a growing number of, presumably, suspect individuals. I don’t know what happened to the other ‘detainees’ but I was shipped off to an interview room where I was left alone for some time. Eventually the same man who had sent me there, began a grilling that went on for most of the morning. He wanted to know all about my finances, my intentions and my relationships with people in the UK.
My tormentor went through everything, including my purse, bank deposit book, clothes, wash-bag, diary and address book. The interrogation proper began. Who is this person and that person? Why do you call her your sister (Rosie) if she isn’t? Why is she called Grandma (Holbrook) in this entry if she isn’t your grandmother? Who are you going to meet? Why? How do you know them? How long are you staying? How are you supporting yourself on your travels if you have no savings? Why should we believe you that you are entering for a weekend, if you have already worked illegally in another country? Well that was the clincher. He didn’t ask if I had been working in France. He told me I was. All the evidence was there, though unbeknownst to me. Eventually I confessed the whole story hoping that he would believe the truth – I did not want to work in the UK. Unfortunately, he didn’t and I was shipped back on the next ferry to Zeebrugge. I wasn’t even allowed a phone call to tell Del and Linds what was happening. I thought you always got one phone call in these situations? Damn those Hollywood movies!
With instructions for it not to be returned until I had had an interview with the officer in charge, my passport was handed to the ferry’s Purser. I was ushered into a cabin. The Captain sat at his desk with three other imposing, uniformed men standing around him. I was traumatised and terrified. To my relief however, he was extraordinarily kind. To the guffaws of his crew members, he suggested that my being tossed out was the result of the immigration official not getting any satisfaction from his wife the night before. He said he was astonished that an Australian had been turned away, as he had never known it to happen on so “flimsy a reason”. I was given my passport, which had a nasty black stamp emblazoned on one page, multiple vouchers for free food and drink and a free pass to see all of the movies that were being shown in the ferry’s cinema. I sobbed my way through Sleepless in Seattle, amongst other films, of which I now have no memory.
Some confusion and concern was created by my arrival back in Paris, two days early. This very soon resulted in my being told my situation was too risky to the family for my employment to continue. Thus I found myself serving notice, wondering what my next step should be.
This none too flattering picture was taken at the train station on my return to Zeebrugge on the 9th June, the day of my disgrace.