The first time, I didn’t even think about it. I hopped on the plane, no queues, no hassle, no unnecessary fiddling about with paperwork and ID. Off I went, to vineyards, old wine, oozing cheese, unsatisfactory toilets and crumbling chateaux.
Getting back home was slightly less relaxing. The French immigration people were a lot less friendly than the British lot who’d just waved me through, happy, it seemed, to see the back of me. But the French wanted a passport.
“I’ve never had one,” I told the man, bewildered. He looked at me as though I had one brain cell that was dragging along the floor behind me, picking up fluff. He spoke good English but called in a translator anyway, to ensure that both of us understood just how stupid I am.
I’m 18, I haven’t travelled abroad before – no one said you needed a passport to travel within the EU. I thought that was the whole point – bringing down borders, a brave new world… Nope, just as much red tape as the old world apparently!
It was so embarrassing, they phoned my sister and she had to come and get me. After picking up my birth certificate for ID – that involved getting my spare keys off mum and dad (so they know now – great!) and wading into the depths of my bedroom. They say your life flashes in front of you during moments of enormous, life-shattering stress but, for me, it was a montage of embarrassing things in my room – my open diary, knickers on the floor, my bookshelves full of chick lit (the old sis is super-serious and intellectual).
She came good though, turned up with my birth certificate, a coffee the size of her head and something resembling a smile. She can be good in times of need (maybe she didn’t even notice my diary?).
Well, that was last year. And I got over it all, sibling martyrdom and parental fury allowing, fairly quickly. Mainly because I got things sorted straight away – I got myself a passport. No mean feat either, these days, you need so much documentation, a photo for which even Kate Moss would struggle to take in all the posing criteria, a whacking great fee – and a bit more if you want someone at the Post Office to check you’ve done it right: I thought that would probably be a good idea for me, I didn’t want to take any chances after last time.
This year’s trip was to Madrid. Gorgeous, bit of sun, tapas, sangria…a friend’s hen night. I had a great time. Which is just as well because the journey back hasn’t been fun so far. When I arrived at Heathrow and joined the EU queue for border control – because I am from the EU, you know, born and bred in London and barely set foot outside it, which was actually the problem last year when I didn’t realise I needed a passport – I got turned away and sent to another queue for ‘All Passports’. Pah!
I queued again and,when I finally reached the front, underwent a barrage of questions. I ended up being taken away into a small room so they could speed up the queue behind me.
Ok, so mum’s Russian. That’s kind of exotic, right? It’s where I get my cheekbones from – that’s what my boyfriend says. So when I was applying for my passport and I found out I could either have a Russian one or a boring old maroon British one like everyone else, obvs I went for the Russian one. Much more exciting.
But that’s not what UK immigration think. Apparently I have no documentation to show I have the right to live and work in the UK. In fact, quite the contrary. And they’ve booked me on a one-way flight to Moscow. I’ve never been to Russia and we don’t have any family there anymore. I don’t speak Russian. I need my sister.
And a lawyer.