I’m a squirrel on the rack here. #PackingToMove

Why why why is it so hard to throw out stuff?

I’ve just hauled one of my mother’s favourite antiques out to the car – it will go to the dump tomorrow. It’s Victorian, and an awkward shape, and when it was shipped to me after her death with a few other much-loved items it lost a leg in transit. The leg has been re-attached twice, but if so much as a feather lands on it the leg comes off again. Take it to Spain? No.  Oh, Mum, I’m so sorry.

She’d have kept it, because she was a squirrel, and because we all turn into our mothers eventually I am a squirrel too. A squirrel packing up after a dozen years in the same house, was there ever a more pathetic sight? I did the giant clear-out once before, 17 years ago almost to the week, and I was bad then, I am so much worse now.  Oh, I know why – the older we get, the more memories we’ve accumulated, and the more often we experience discarder’s regret. You know how that works – you throw out the bottom half of the Christmas tree because the top is nowhere to be found. A week later you find the top half under the spare bed.  (Yes, okay, if I was a more diligent housewife that couldn’t have happened. Bad example.)

Six months ago I put the house on the market and did a drastic clear out into the garage to make it look bigger. I should just be piling those boxes into the car and taking them straight to the dump because in six months I have never gone looking for anything.   I know I don’t need any of it. But no – I’m going through boxes to see what can go to the charity shops instead. Ask me how much I have put aside to take with me?

Don’t ask. It’s not a lot, but it shouldn’t be anything at all.

I’ve moved often in my life – in fact the dozen years in this house might be my longest stay anywhere, ever – and you’d think my belongings would be pretty streamlined. Nope. Auction junkie who can’t resist a bargain, with hoarder genes – disastrous combination.

The movers will be here next Saturday to move goods and boxes into storage and right now I’m having to hope they’re bringing a pantechnicon.  Not only that – there’s so much being put aside to go under the bed in the van that it will be teetering near the roof.  That’s if the van doesn’t just go spatchcock on me, because a lot of what I’m taking is small but too heavy to box.

I need an intervention.  moping

Have #campervan

That’s it, bought a converted van, drove it home through pouring rain, and just to add to the thrill, threading through narrow streets for the first endless hair-raising twenty minutes. Here’s something you should know – vans need a lot more steering than Toyota IQs.  Remember that. Still, it was quite late at night by then and the few other road users sussed pretty quickly that I was rubbish on roundabouts and gave me plenty of room. Thanks for that, guys.  And by the way, in passing, I am very glad indeed I went for a relatively small option, at least from the driving point of view.

Citroen Gourock 1 numberplate blacked out

Once on the motorway I fell in love.  I’ve spent a large chunk of my life on horseback and my present much-loved car is like a nippy little pony with grit, determination, and an unexpected turn of speed. Driving the van was like riding a Clydesdale shire, phew the ground seems far away – but the van settled to 70 mph, offered me more if it wanted it (no, no, eek) and simply ate the miles with me eventually grinning like a loon with sheer delight.  It’s a diesel, much noisier than an IQ, and the rattling in the back made it clear muffling solutions will have to be found, but what I have is a big panel van with the absolute basics – a bed, a camping loo, a pump sink, gas hob and grill, (it was the grill pan doing the rattling) and fridge, all miniature and very reminiscent of childhood and Wendy houses.

Citroen Gourock 2

I’ve been out there this morning measuring and photographing and planning how to use every inch of space to maximum effect, while the dog, looking puzzled, searched every corner for the previous owner’s border collie. It’s been a weekend van, and now it has to be home for two to three weeks to me and the dog and the cat, and that’s challenging!  I watched youtube records of van dwellers  until 3 this morning and the general message has been pretty much ‘cut back cut back cut back, essentials ONLY’.

I can fit my trunk (stuff I only need when I get there) under the bed, with my six square storage baskets in front of it, will put a dress rail into the tiny loo area (I would only ever be using the porta-potty in direst emergency) so I can hang as much as possible on hangers – clothes, towels, a shoe-organizer with underwear, a shoe organizer with shoes and – okay, probably boring you now.

Useful stuff learned – a converted van should be re-registered as a campervan, this one was, but watch out for that. Lots of home conversions for sale which haven’t been.  That’s vital for insurance, and being a paid-up member of a camper organisation will also get you cheaper premiums. Most important of all, and I only found this out when I went looking up what was needed when buyer and seller are both private individuals, the law has changed on road tax, in 2016.  It is no longer transferable, so the fact that a camper is taxed and not SORN is good while you are test-driving but no good for getting it home. There is no grace period.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse, either, and the fine can be massive. No whining that it is a two hour drive you have to make twice – I paid my deposit, took the logbook, MOT, etc., away with me, paid my road tax, and my lovely tenant drove me back to collect the van the next day.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

2017 UK  regulations for a pet passport #petpassport

It isn’t impossible that someone someday will ask me about moving to Europe, although probably they’ll be using me as an example of how not to do things.  Since these days I am hard put to remember my name (be fair – I have about 5, I use 3 different ones just for my books)  I shall track my findings on the blog, under the category TRAVELS, tagged ‘travel advice’.

UPDATED COMMENT – no-one cared at the border whether the animals had passports or not. The ONLY time you need them is if returning to UK. If your move is long-term, especially if your pets are elderly, you probably don’t need them. 

NB – always worth checking the regulations as they have changed from what they were and Brexit means they will likely change again. As at July 2017, here we go

  1. The pet must be in good health, because a healthy immune system is essential. Age of a full-grown adult pet doesn’t matter, state of health does.
  2. All those expensive boosters you’ve scrupulously kept up to date all these years? Forget them. No-one cares. The only record that matters on the passport is the rabies shot.
  3. The rabies vaccine needs 28 days. Despite this, passports can be issued, and the pet can travel, 21 days after the vaccination, without a further blood test. That’s one of the big changes and many vets don’t approve; it could well change again. For your own peace of mind, allow 28 days, especially if your pet is tetchy and argumentative with strange animals.
  4. If your pet isn’t looking well, even just has the sniffles, it will not be given the shot. You’ll be sent away, to try again in a week. A strong immune system is essential for activating the vaccine.
  5. The passports will be issued during the waiting period. Photographic likeness is not required. Instead, the pet’s chip will be read and put on the passport, so you can’t get a passport for an un-chipped pet. The cost for the microchip is around £15.
  6. Once issued, the passport is valid for a year. If you get the rabies booster done before the year is up, the passport is valid for a further 3 years (another change from before, when it was 2 and 2).
  7. The price hurts a bit – £175 per pet. They’re worth it, but I will not be impressed if either cocks their toes up just afterwards. (Update – As nobody at any point asked to see them, and I wasn’t planning to return, 350 quid down the drain.)

Pity the Customs officer trying to scan my xenophobic paranoid dog’s ear when she’s at best a testy traveller, but we’ll manage somehow.  I just hope that she passes the physical, rising 12 is geriatric for an English bulldog but her Frenchie half does keep her bouncy.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

Final updated comment: and as I said above, do check as regulations could change: if you do want to return to the UK, there is currently a further inoculation which has to be done 48 hours or more before your return. Since I was told I couldn’t leave the country without passports, and that was totally wrong, I have no idea how strictly they monitor the returning pet. However, British bureaucracy being what it is, assume the worst and check for the latest regulations.  If you get a pet in Europe and want to take it to the UK, you will have to do the rabies vaccine thing and I would suggest 28 days in advance, to be on the safe side.

Life – that thing that flashes past your eyes before you die.

I live it pretty much alone – great friends, some lovely relatives (and some not so lovely), but I do live alone and I’ve finally had to realize that’s by choice because even when someone suitable for a home share comes along I’m not entirely comfortable until they’re gone.  The cat that walks alone, that’s me, and usually, I’m absolutely fine with that.

And then something has to be done and you realise having another human being in your life can be truly useful. Whether it is as minor as putting up a six foot curtain rail, or as major as trying to work out how to get a dog + cat + car + furniture from point A to point B 2000 miles away – and on a very, VERY, tight budget.

I’d like to drive, in my much-loved car, with my dog and my cat, sending the furniture via professional movers, but I can’t, obviously, drive 2000 miles in a day and I don’t know if I will be able to find pet-friendly hotels all along the route at exactly the point where I am tiring and thinking it time to call a halt.

My sister and her bloke have done the same trip every winter for years (well, without the furniture, of course). They plonk the cat in the motorcamper, he drives, (her bloke, that is, not the cat) and she follows in the car, and they stop whenever they want for as long as they want.

Could be a plan. I could buy a fairly elderly but hopefully reliable left-hand-drive motorhome, and sell it when I get there. That’s me and the pets sorted, but unless I’m going to nip to the shops in a motorhome, mmm, what about my car?

A clone would be extremely handy at this point. Or a second driver – someone I like enough to share the close confines of a motorhome with, overnight  – bringing up the rear.

I had a eureka idea moment – tow the car! I mean we’ve SEEN those campers, right? And yes, we’ve been caught behind them as they pant up hills at ten struggling miles an hour but . . .  if my aging motorhome did break down, it wouldn’t be impossible to unleash the car and go hunting for help. I was really rather pleased with that. See? It is possible to have it all!

motorhome and trailer

 

Apparently it’s a bad idea. Towbar expensive, trailer expensive, taxes, tolls, and fuel all doubled, not to mention straining the elderly motorhome to the point where it will die on me. Not worth taking a fairly old car which is right-hand drive anyway, no matter how loved or reliable it is.

So my brain has quietly exploded.  I even wonder if I am past the age of adventure. Everyone said I’d never cope when I came to the UK (no pets, no car, too many boxes of books) 17 years ago – in fact, the way things are panning out, it would be 17 years almost to the day when I leave again – and maybe this time they’re right.

And yes, I do hear your eyes rolling. Pete’s sake, woman, you’re saying out loud, just fly with the animals, rent a car, be at the house to meet the movers, then buy a car and return the rental, bob’s your uncle.

Oh, would it were that simple. I’m on my third offer for this house. I rejected the first, the second fell through, and although third time can be the charm, ain’t no guarantees.  The one thing I cannot afford to risk is buying t’other place before I have sold this one, or I will own both and eek, that tight tight budget will go nuclear.  So that’s on hold until missives are concluded (which may only be a Scottish term?  basically not before the deal is signed, sealed, and funds transferred).

Missives are often only concluded on the day of occupation. Okay – furniture into store, and you suddenly start to see the attraction of the motorhome, rather than me to a hotel and the animals into pet storage.  Once I have the money in my hot little hand I can re-start the process in Spain, but it could be weeks before that completes and I can move in. Again, the motorhome means I can be there on the spot, hopping from foot to foot and spurring them on.

So I am bidding for one on eBay.  Never seen it, although I’ve pored over the pictures and researched the make intensively and will come back and kill the seller if it’s a pup – I write whodunits, I know how to kill.

So far I am still the winning bidder. 5 days to go. I genuinely, now that my brain has exploded, don’t know whether I want to be the final winner, or whether that’s the biggest mistake I’ve made so far. In fact I don’t even know if the house in Spain will still be on the market when this sale does complete. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Things that are meant to happen fall neatly into place. This is not falling into place!

I’ve not blogged much lately so with any luck no-one will even see this rather forlorn ramble. I can’t write. I can’t think. It’s as much as I can do every day to teach, both to keep at least some tiny income trickling into the coffers and increase my experience as a very newly-qualified teacher of English as a second language.

And yet – in some bizarre way – I’ve never felt so alive, so challenged. If it does all fall through and I have to settle back down to life as it has been (with or without an expensive left-hand-drive motorhome sitting outside, eep) it will be very anti-climatic.  A sneaking relief, the easy option but – very flat indeed.

Teleporting – and about time too. Dedicated to those at Stansted yesterday –

There’s a link to a Mirror article already mourning what we’ll miss when teleportation comes in (Brits are nothing if not quick to see the nostalgia in everything) at the end of this post.

I’ll tell you what I won’t miss.

Flying.

It seems to be more unpleasant every single time. Yesterday I flew back from Stansted, and was caught up in a fire alarm debacle.  There we were, sitting on a plane waiting for around 50 or 60 passengers still due to load, and there they were, being evacuated from the terminal because of the fire alarm. In the stampede they were well mixed with other passengers not cleared by security to fly to Edinburgh.

Since it is an obvious truth that everyone given a sliver of a chance to fly to Edinburgh will, quite rightly,  grab it, there was a lengthy wait while the powers that be debated whether it would be quicker to wait for the compromised passengers to be re-sorted, or to find and remove their luggage from the hold. After, oh, quite a while, it was announced that since the passengers were nearly ready to come aboard anyway we’d just wait for them.

Our excellent pilot then put his foot so firmly on the gas to make up time that we arrived in Edinburgh earlier than expected and had to wait on the plane for the ground crew to release us from our metal cage. That took about half an hour. He could have saved the petrol. However, my 4 hours of being caged was a mere cherry on top of the usual standard joys of flying.

Is Stansted the worst airport in Britain? It offers nothing – absolutely nothing – to do (except stand and smoke, or sit on a metal bench on the pavement and stare into space) before you go through security. Nothing.  Smokers don’t even have benches but must stand in roped-off areas. And don’t get all sniffy with me and say its my fault for being a dirty smoker. You non-smokers can’t even sit down inside the terminal building.  Stand, sit on the floor, or go through. Them’s the choices. Stansted is not subtle about declaring its preference for which choice you should make.

So I nicotine-loaded with the other unclean, then went through security, waited until 10 minutes before boarding time for my gate to be announced – #30 – and realized I had to catch a train to get there in the narrow window of opportunity before my ticket said the boarding gate would close.

Managed to cram into the second train and with a mighty jerk (which caused a particularly hefty passenger to lose his balance and stand heavily on my foot) we tore off to our destination.

The queue to board is always fun, every airport, but Stansted had a final refinement in store – we were then herded into a narrow, windowless, airless, passage,  with locked doors at one end and an increasing press of passengers coming up behind. Does the otherwise ubiquitous Health & Safety know about this? Priority passengers get the full benefit, because they get the longest wait – after 25 minutes a few of the earliest, at the front, were sinking bonelessly to the ground as the lack of oxygen finally took its toll. The doors finally opened, we hauled the fallen back to their feet and boarded.

So even before the fire alarm it hadn’t been a bundle of fun.

I can’t wait for teleporting, me.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/science/what-well-miss-can-teleport-10784232

 

 

 

I’m so topical I don’t understand why I’m not an icon

Just call me Ms Demographic, Demi for short. I’m a babyboomer, for starters. Born between 1946 and 1964, and a little fed up that my retirement age moved from nicely handy to six years further down the line.

I’m a writer of breezy novellas who, thanks to the ebook and POD revolution, could publish myself. That’s a bigger demographic than you might realize. Last time I checked there were over 13 million books out there, and I checked Amazon.com right now, as I’m typing this – in my main category, Mystery Thriller and Suspense, there were 6829 new releases in the last 30 days.  (One of them is mine, 17 18, woohoo). There are over half a million in that category alone.  I do get pretty excited about occasionally popping into the top twenty thousand writers, but the reality is that only authors consistently in the top thousand enjoy the dizzying excitement of being able to support themselves with their writing.  Still. My books pay for my holidays, and I do take a lot of those.

I’m a mature single – that’s an absolutely huge demographic – and have been on a singles website for a few years now. Research, of course,  but I take my research seriously, been there, done that, got my heart broken (okay, dented) and wrote the book(s). (Being the mature single is the demographic, writing On Meeting Mr Will Do Nicely and a couple of novels was a bit more niche.)

I was made redundant  recently, that’s a growing demographic, and for the second time.  With all those extra years to fill in before I can start living off the fat of the land with a (partial) British pension, I’m part of that other demographic, the one that thinks oi, life the way it is hasn’t really ticked all my boxes or rung all my bells, is it time to try something else?

There’s the demographic of the many, many Brits who bolt to the sun to try that something else in a warmer climate. A staggering percentage of them chose Spain. Never one to buck a trend, I found a dilapidated (i.e. affordable) townhouse in a fairly perfect white village, and decided that was it, future sorted. Sell the house in Scotland, buy the house in Spain, which is way big enough to run a couple of Airbnb options (another growing demographic) and Bob’s your uncle.

Okay, working in Spain would be challenging, since my Spanish so far consists of knowing how to order coffee, and increasingly talented in the areas of point-and-or-mime, and that’s after seven holidays in rapid succession in Spanish-speaking territories.  All I can reasonably ask of the house is that it will earn enough to pay for its own maintenance and upkeep.

No problem. Teach the Spanish to speak English. So I did a TEFL course and am currently busily gaining vital experience as a teacher through an international online agency. That’s a smaller demographic, I’ll grant you that, but it too is growing.

Demographically, I am in so many Venn diagrams that Windmills Of Your Mind is becoming my theme song. I’m a human fidget spinner.

Surely I can turn this wealth of overlapping demographics into cash terms somehow? Brexit and the dratted General Election are playing merry havoc with the pound / euro exchange rate, and I do need that rate strong to do the house-and-fix-up thing. Scotland’s will-we, won’t-we rumblings about independence has slowed the house-sales market to a crawl. Tchah!

Ideas on cashing in on my demographic potential ? Anyone? Ta.

Don’t know where, don’t know when – theoretically Spain –

Limbo … my office closed at the end of April, making us all redundant, and I have a tiny financial cushion while I look for another job – but what kind of job? Temporary, short-term, massive pay, would probably be best because my house is on the market.

If it doesn’t sell, I have to find something permanent (massive pay would continue to be a bonsella) or sell a lot more books to keep the bulldog in the extremely expensive food she has to have because of her pink skin problems.

It may not sell.  My small town on the Firth of Forth is lovely, but short on public transport and therefore not in brisk demand. Scotland generally is unsettled, due to La Sturgeon’s ongoing determination to cut us adrift.  Investors are leaving, not buying, and my erstwhile employers are far from the only national company quietly moving operations down south. These are not ideal selling conditions.

If it does sell, though – hmmm. Spain? There’s an enormous townhouse there, in a lovely little town perfectly positioned for quiet tourists, which would convert into four holiday apartments plus a flatlet for me (I did say enormous!)  Right now, it’s a white elephant of note. Weeds are waist high in the terrace, two of the ceilings are sagging in the most alarming manner, and plaster doesn’t so much flake off the walls as fall off in sizeable chunks. That does mean it is affordable, and it has location location location in Velez: Costa Tropical beaches fifteen minutes away in one direction, spectacular Granada half an hour away in the other, and the ski resorts of the Sierra Nevada beyond that.  I’m about to list some of alarming photos and videos on the house’s Facebook page.  I took my daughter to see it last weekend. She thinks I’m demented. You’ll doubtless agree.

Fair enough. If I achieve everything I want to achieve with it, I’ll look back on the photos and videos I’ve taken and will be pretty astonished myself that I bought it, but that’s in limbo too. Demented I may be, but not to the point of buying it without a structural survey. I saw the house on Valentine Eve, fell in love with its shabby charm and potential, and requested said survey. We are now, hmm, 10th day of May. In theory the survey, promised almost on a weekly basis, is booked at last, for the 19th. Then, and only then, can I make an offer and of course in the meantime anyone could buy it from under my nose.  That would be fun, especially if my house sold at the same time.  Oops. Nowhere to live, and nowhere to go.

The thing is, if this house doesn’t sell, I have fourteen years of mortgage still to clear. Fourteen years! That takes me past retirement age no matter how often our caring government moves the goalposts. I’m not even sure I have fourteen years of life left, and I know for an absolute fact I don’t have fourteen years of Indian summer, it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want to spend those years working to pay a mortgage. The elefante blanco would be bought cash, and although it would never provide enough income to live on, it could reasonably be expected to cover its own upkeep and maintenance. That’s incredibly tempting, a self-sustaining home, erratic flow of visitors, a better lifestyle generally that even costs less. I adore Scotland, but the winds do seem to be blowing.

I’ve let chance and circumstance run my life for nearly twenty years now, and no regrets, not one. Being a straw in the wind brought me to the UK, then to Scotland, into this house, and into writing those books you see in the margin. (Are you up to date on the books? There’s a new one out, and one coming up and about to go on pre-order, make a note in your diary.)

grin

I blew off to Europe increasingly often to meet eclectic members of the singles website I joined to research some of the books. One resulting friend lives near Velez – straws that blew me to the door of #21 Calle de Martires. It feels right. It feels terrifying, at the same time. A stray breeze blew an email from a TEFL college into my mailbox, so I signed up to do a TEFL course – teach English as a foreign language – towards the future, and am enjoying bending my brain. Learning Spanish I’ll leave until when (if) I get there – courses are regularly offered for free either in Velez or a nearby town, and I’d get to meet other newcomers learning Spanish, win win.

Right now, the straws are hanging motionless, and I’m waiting for the wind to pick up again.

There’s a house viewing booked for tomorrow, only the third since I listed the house.  A brief breeze, which will drop again, or the start of a strong driving wind – who knows? Not a clue.

I need a windsock.

Passport whinges – part two. No wonder Brexit. The passport office HATES travel.

Dear Mr Johnson

A few weeks ago my passport was stolen in Germany and I thought the difficulties I had getting home were bad enough.  Turns out it isn’t just the Foreign Office which is dedicated to making life’s little travel document issues close to unbearable. (Have you removed that chilly passive-aggressive utterly unhelpful piece of human snot from Dusseldorf yet? He really isn’t suited to life in the Diplomatic Corps. If his attitude towards British citizens is anything to go by he really should not be dealing with people from any other country.)

That’s by the by. If you aren’t the right person for this query perhaps you would be kind enough to forward this message to the correct office.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn I could apply on line for my passport, because we all know Big Brother is watching everything we do and every detail of our lives is available on request to those in power who feel they need to know.  All those census forms, driving licence details, every remotely official document I’ve ever had to fill in, job applications for anything remotely government related, and, of course, every passport I’ve ever had.

Any chance this wealth of information be shared with the Passport Office?

Perhaps I was being tested. Sure, I know my father’s name although these days that may not be an easy question for some and should probably be removed from the form so as not to offend. His place of birth – hmm, that was 103 years ago, but I think I got that right. Fairly sure of my mother’s, too.

No, I don’t know his passport number. I think it has expired, to be honest, he’s been dead well over ten years and wasn’t doing a lot of travelling towards the end.

If either parent was alive I would ask, with tears of frustration in my eyes, why they chose to be living in another country at the time of my birth. I’m sure they didn’t intend to cause me lifelong problems with bureaucracy. They did their best, to be fair. Registered my birth at Somerset House, and put me on my mother’s British passport before my eyes had even opened. In fact I’ve had a British passport ever since.  That’s been quite a few over the decades. Big Brother presumably knows that, but the Passport Office doesn’t store any details.

Anyway, I filled in the application, paid on line and received an email attachment for the counter-signatory information. Eight pages, each helpfully marked 1 of 8, 2 of 8, all the way to 8 of 8. Careful instructions to the counter-signatory as to what to do and how to complete the counter-signatory form but – no counter-signatory form.

So I rang. Now I am not one to complain about the rising tide of immigrants, because let’s face it, to purists I am one myself. However I think it might, just a suggestion, be nice to employ actual English-born,  English-speaking, staff on the phones?  Just saying.  As it happened the various immigrants I spoke to (I had to call a couple of times) did try to be helpful, which is more than could be said for the actual English-born, English-speaking person I finally reached, who might be related to the non-diplomat in Dusseldorf, and certainly went to the same charm school.  I was told there’s a queue. Of course there is. This is Britain. There’s always a queue. They couldn’t possibly email me the corrected form (even though it was an online application and they had emailed me the incorrect one) but within 72 hours they would post it to me.

That caused another problem, because you don’t accept the word of just anyone on photograph likeness, do you? Doctors aren’t acceptable unless they are personal friends as well. I was a little depressed to realize how few professional people I had known for two years that I was still in contact with. They’ve retired and as often as not taken their retirement pounds abroad to friendlier climates and cheaper lifestyles. Still, my dentist had agreed to do the honours, which was very good of her since I’m not allowed to show her handiwork in the photo, but was off on holiday within the 72 hours.  I know you say not to book a holiday until you have a passport but mine was stolen and I had already booked a holiday before it was stolen. I really didn’t want to wait until she got back, because tick tock, time is fleeting.

Well, I could go on, and on, and on, but as I still don’t have my passport I will keep the rest of the saga to part three. I suspect it will be even longer than part two, and more indignant.

No wonder Brexit. It is quite obvious, Mr Johnson, that your department disapproves completely of travel and want to make it as difficult as possible.

Boris, a word please, from stranded travellers? #passportstolen and what to do

This is, in fairness, what you would call a fairly focused blog, because my research (quite involuntary, for once) was on losing a passport in Bremen, Germany.

In passing I’d like to say that if you have to lose a passport anywhere, Bremen is possibly the best place as they have the nicest police ever.  Plus flights there are surprisingly cheap, and it is LOVELY.

If you are not a UK citizen, you’re in luck. The airport police can issue you an emergency travel document – go first to the police station closest to where you lost the passport, and report it there, just because if it turns up the chances are it will be handed in there.  The police will give you a letter confirming you have reported the loss. You will then need two passport photographs, and you take those and the letter to the airport police and fill in quite a lot of forms and Bob’s your uncle.

Unfortunately the UK wants no truck with that sort of convenience. You need to go to the closest consulate (and good planning if you are holidaying in Berlin, Munich or Dusseldorf, whoops if you aren’t) and they will issue the emergency document. When and if they feel like it. If you lost it on a Friday afternoon, wow, bad luck because they won’t feel like it until Monday.  Of all the people I dealt with during the whole fairly stressful event, the UK consul staff in Dusseldorf were the only ones who were completely and utterly unhelpful, in fact the absolute and complete pits, and I would like a word with Boris Johnson about them. Just saying.

However I learned a great deal during the crisis and that’s the point of this blog. Some things to put in place for your next trip:

  1. Carry 3 certified copies of your passport on holiday, and keep them in different places. They won’t replace the passport, but they will make proving your identity oh so much easier.
  2. One thing I always do for visiting South Africa, and may in fact do as well as the above from now on, is to get an international driving licence from the AA. Whether you are planning to drive on holiday or not, the international driving licence is acceptable identification for any situation because it states your citizenship (which, by the way, your normal driving licence doesn’t). South Africa is not the only country that can demand identification, then take your passport and not give it back. Hand over the international AA identification instead!  It’s not expensive, it doesn’t take too much time to organize, and you probably won’t need it. You will thank me with tears of gratitude if you do.
  3. Keep copies of your insurance details with each of the above. I buy travel insurance annually, not per trip, because I travel a fair amount and I get far better cover for a better price, but I had become casual about keeping the details to hand. Never again.  However, just so you know, most travel insurance should cover around £250 of your costs for emergency travel documents. If you are a UK citizen, have to spend an unexpected weekend waiting for the consulate to find time to fit your emergency into their busy schedule, and have to travel to another town to reach the consulate, not to mention booking a short-notice flight back, that isn’t as much as it sounds. Don’t assume you are fully covered for all expenses, is what I’m saying.

Things I didn’t get to try, but was told about:

I don’t know how true this is because I only found out afterwards, but it seems those indifferent sods at the Consulate could have faxed or emailed through the emergency documentation. I didn’t know to ask, and they didn’t offer because this was after all 4.30 on Friday afternoon and their minds were on more important things.  However, it does seem logical that if you can send a certified copy of your passport to them from the airport police computers, they should – surely? – be able to send that PDF back?  Too logical?

If all else fails and you really are stuck for a couple of days, there is a wonderful piece of local law in Germany if any of your belongings are stolen from your hotel. It would be lovely to think every country has some equivalent but no-one rushes to mention it. In Germany it has the jawbreaking name of  Strenge Haftung des Beherbergungswirtes  – the hotelier is liable for up to 100 times the room rate (without breakfast) for any losses suffered by the guest. In theory, therefore, you could return to the hotel and expect them to put you up for free at the very least, maybe pay your train fare to the nearest consulate, while you wait for your lazy and grossly indifferent  public servant* to help you.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

 

*yup, still seething.

The rain in Spain falls mainly well you know where. And there’s a local book if you’re planning a visit …

Recently I left misty Scotland for a week in sunny (and, it turned out, unusually humid) Spain. Bold blue skies, looming mountains, olives in profusion and splashes of colour everywhere, wow.  I was visiting a sister who lives there half the year and reluctantly returns to beautiful Hampshire for the rest of the time, and her villa is halfway up a mountain in an utterly beautiful town with a nice mix of Spanish and ex-pats who have embraced the lifestyle and struggle manfully with the language and are integrating pretty successfully.

contrasts

A surprising number of those I met are in my favourite Indian Summer age and have thrown over the conventional ‘wind-down towards retirement’ to follow a dream. I met two lively interesting women around my age who moved there for (or with) a fella and stayed when the wheels fell off because they had fallen in love with the country, hats off to them because I didn’t have the courage but boy, are they enjoying their lives.  I met writers and painters and actors (there is a thriving theatre group, currently in rehearsals for a Federico Lorca play) and a fair number who were semi-retired or retired but following dreams and hobbies and activities of their own with vigour and enthusiasm.

Being a fish out of water does appeal most to eccentrics, and those I met were lively, deeply tanned, and interested in a far wider range of things than they would have been at home. I was delighted to be greeted in a soft Glaswegian voice by one man I had particularly wanted to meet because I swotted up for the trip by reading his book: Jim Mackie moved to that part of the world with his wife and the declared intent of saying yes to anything (however bizarre) that let him follow his love of music. His book, if you are a music lover (especially boogie) is a treat, just skip the bits on Bedar, Almeria, and the surrounding Andalusia. If, on the other hand, you are only fascinated by interesting Brits abroad who have found lovely places to live, skip the music. The book is selling fairly briskly so there must be those who like both but hey, look for yourself:  Boogie Man book  or, to give it its full title, Boogie Man (And His Cat) In Andalusia.

There are things about Spain that I loved – walking up to the fuenta to get pure fresh water (there are fountains in every town, no matter how remote, and residents will argue fiercely over the merits of driving the extra few miles to nearby Serena because their fuenta was better than the local one) and that deeply blue sky and the friendliness of everyone I met. Hola!  Sitting sipping wine with my feet in a swimming pool (only my feet. The locals decreed it was too cold to swim in water that was a mere 24 degrees  and I was for sure not going to cavort like a slightly portly dolphin on my own).  Entertaining is cheap, with very drinkable plonk at around a euro a bottle, and paella for dinner can stretch to cover a surprising number of guests. Tapas is around a euro a shot so you can try several different ones, enjoy wine with your choice, and still waddle away with change from a fiver. We partied every single day for a week. I need a holiday to recover from my holiday.

There were things I found daunting: it is a seriously big country, and I speak as someone who hails originally from Africa. In Africa, when something is an hour’s  drive away, you shrug and change your mind about going. In Scotland, you can pretty much cross the country in the kind of time that Spanish residents think is an acceptable drive to a good restaurant.  I last experienced that kind of relaxed thinking in Florida but one important difference is that roads in Florida don’t wind round mountains, and I wasn’t being driven there by a sister who defaults, as often as not, to driving in the middle of the road rather than trouble her head about remembering whether she should be on the left or the right side. I am apparently the worst backseat driver ever but I wasn’t the only one to come away with new grey hairs, we met a few drivers around blind corners who are probably still palpitating.

And it was HOT. Even in October. Sleeping fitfully through the sound of a creaking fan, the windows thrown open to attract any flicker of a breeze and therefore a nightlong deafening chorus of cicadas, not to mention the unbearable weight of the sheet, was challenging. Forever sweating up a slope, or scuttling awkwardly down, is always going to make walking a problem when you are living halfway up a mountain.

When I landed back at Edinburgh it was 12 degrees, with a fine misty rain. NICE.