Tim Dowl­ing Plus Bim Adewunmi

I can do self­less at pass­port con­trol, but flip­pant? Never

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Heathrow air­port, some months ago: my wife, my mid­dle son and I ar­rive back from hol­i­day. At pass­port con­trol they both go through the t It’s only elec­tronic af­ter I gates, turn the while corner I fol­low that signs I see the for queue non-EU is ar­rivals. enor­mous, I w wind­ing back on it­self a dozen times.

Fif­teen min­utes af­ter join­ing the queue, I have yet to reach the fi­fifi first turn. Af­ter 20 min­utes I ring my wife.

“You should go home,” I say. “I’ll be at least an­other hour.” “Re­ally?” she says. “I feel a bit shifty leav­ing you.” “There’s no point in you wait­ing,” I say. I can hear her turn­ing away from the phone to speak to the mid­dle one.

“Dad’s say­ing we should just go,” she says.

“They’re giv­ing out free wa­ter,” I say.

“Your son has rather grace­lessly ac­cepted your of­fer,” my wife says. I had not counted on this.

“It’s fine,” I say. It feels like the most self­less thing I have ever done, which is it­self sham­ing.

“If you’re sure,” she says. “He’s al­ready head­ing for the exit.”

“I’ll see you when I see you,” I say. Once I’m com­mit­ted, the depth of my self­less­ness in­creases with ev­ery ex­tra minute of wait­ing. Af­ter an hour, I’m keen to do at least two so that my sac­ri­fice is suf­fi­ciently note­wor­thy. I turn down a free wa­ter. I want to be here when they start hand­ing out blan­kets. I want to be here when the par­lia­men­tary un­der-sec­re­tary for tourism stands on a chair and apol­o­gises through a mega­phone.

At the hour and 10 minute mark, ex­tra staff are brought in; 10 min­utes af­ter that, I’m on my way. In terms of hard­ship it’s not what I hoped for, but it’s not noth­ing.

Heathrow air­port, one week ago: my wife and I are re­turn­ing from a trip to France. Round­ing the corner into the same ar­rivals hall, I see a queue dou­ble the size of the one I en­dured in Au­gust. My heart sinks.

“I guess I’ll see you to­mor­row,”

I say, self­lessly.

“Hang on,” my wife says. She ap­proaches the near­est bor­der of­fi­cial.

“Ex­cuse me,” she says. “My hus­band is Amer­i­can.”

“How aw­ful for you,” the wo­man says. “I know,” my wife says. “But we are trav­el­ling to­gether, and that queue…”

“It was worse an hour ago,” the of­fi­cial says.

“I don’t know what the rules are,” my wife says. “But you can see he’s old and frac­tious.” They both turn

to ap­praise me, and I try to look pained.

“Fol­low me,” the of­fi­cial says. She leads us to a sign that says FAM­I­LIES and lifts the rope. We en­ter a short queue full of wired tod­dlers from many lands.

“Some­times it’s good be­ing mar­ried to some­one like me,” my wife says, bounc­ing a baby on her hip while its mother at­tends to her other child.

“Yes, no,” I say. “I mean, hats off.” “Christ, I’d for­got­ten how heavy they are,” she says. The baby stares at her in per­fect per­plex­ity.

I’m wor­ried we don’t qual­ify for this queue. I re­call a time when, short of a pound coin at the su­per­mar­ket, I took a free trol­ley de­signed to ac­com­mo­date in­fant twins, and was sar­cas­ti­cally ac­cused of mis­plac­ing my ba­bies by the wo­man be­hind me at the till.

“It’s OK,” I said at the time. “They usu­ally find their way back to the car.” I know bet­ter than to risk flip­pancy at pass­port con­trol.

For­tu­nately, by the time our turn comes, the of­fi­cial who lifted the rope for us is on duty be­hind the desk.

“You again,” she says.

“This is what I call ser­vice,” my wife says. They laugh. The of­fi­cial flips through my pass­port in search of the stamp grant­ing me leave to en­ter.

“Are you in­tend­ing to ap­ply for UK cit­i­zen­ship?” she says.

“This could be the year,” I say.

“This could be the year,” she says, as if weigh­ing my an­swer for po­ten­tial flip­pancy.

“He’s got to pass the test,” my wife says. “I’m not sure I could past the test!”

“I know I couldn’t!” the of­fi­cial says. “I’ve seen the ques­tions!”

I don’t say any­thing, but I think: I could def­i­nitely pass the test

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