Auto Passport Revisited
“I’m sorry, we haven’t got it”
“auto passport” he said again, with a strong polish accent.
“Sorry, it’s in England, we forgot it” I added, helpfully. (Well,
someone forgot it, no names or anything).
“Auto Passport!” … in slightly more abrupt tones.
“It’s in England, we don’t have it…. we have the tax disc”. OK,
so I knew that didn’t matter but I was just trying to be ‘helpful’.
Now you might need to have a registration document to get a tax
disc, but I happily accept that isn’t a help if the reason they
do this is to stop people stealing cars, as the tax disc is always
in the car anyway… but I digress.
“AUTO PASSPORT” he repeated, ignoring my inner
At this point I just became very blasé about the
“Nope, not got it mate” Shrugging.
At this point I’m thinking, “what’s the worst thing
they’re going to do us…deport us?” Of course, these were people
with guns, and they evidently weren’t afraid to take vehicles apart
piece by piece either…
“…I check the van please”
Ahh, cool I think, we’re making progress. Not only
does it appear that we’re moving on from the whole “Auto Passport”
issue, but he can say more than just those two words. We aren’t
going to be conducting this entire conversation in mime. So removing
the ridiculous beret and stripy jersey, and slipping the white face
paint back into the glove compartment, I jumped out of the van,
and we headed round to the back so that he could inspect what he
needed to inspect.
I could see the expression “They’re going to tear
my van apart” written in the lines across Jonathans brow.
“Where are you going?” he abruptly asked.
“We’re on our way back to England, We’ve just been to Latvia”, and
then Jonathan added “we were doing circus work with orphans”, which
having spoken ‘Jonathan’ for a little longer now I understand is
roughly translated as “we’re nice people, please don’t tear my van
apart … or shoot us”.
“on your way back from Latvia?” the guard asked, sounding
You could hear the reality shift crack in the back
of his head. He was aware that something wasn’t right, but he obviously
couldn’t quite put his finger on it. With what appeared to be some
effort, he managed to make the leap.
“How did you get in?”
The myriad of inappropriate answers that surged
towards the front of my brain at that point was tidal. A Tsunami
of sarcasm followed by wave after waver of answers that could have
got me arrested. Fortunately on rare occasions my mouth is a lot
smarter than my brain and knows that it should just shut the ……..
should just shut up.
The first answer I managed to ignore was just to
point, and say “van”. Obviously, depending on the effect that got,
I may have added “duh!”
Slightly more damaging may have been my next thought
which was to suggest that we’d walked, but that we’d stolen the
van while we were there because well, it was a long way and we didn’t
want to have to walk back. Then we’d painted it in really bright
colours and written Jonathan the Jester
down the side in huge letter so that it would be inconspicuous (I
can’t believe I spelled that right at the first attempt).
I also never told him that our friends had kidnapped
two Polish people and exchanged them for us, which did cross my
The last thought which probably really would have
got me shot, was just to put my arm on his shoulder sit him down
and quietly say “well, this is a long story, and you’re probably
not going to believe it, but it was kinda like this …..Once upon
a time, there were two clowns, well, one of them was a juggler,
not a clown… and a Latvian Ambassador to Poland …”
It probably wasn’t good that I was starting to
find this whole thing incredibly funny. It was made even better
when we opened the rear doors of the van so he could look inside,
and he either thought, “yes indeed, that’s lots of circus equipment
and no mistake”, or he thought “there’s no way I’m searching that
&*$^%$ lot”, because he very simply just said “OK”, and closed
the doors again.
I thought that meant we were through, but no. He
wasn’t done yet. He did actually want an answer about how we got
in. The problem here of course was that we weren’t a hundred percent
sure of the story ourselves. “We had help from the Latvian Ambassador”.
I didn’t want to add, “or something”.
So he went off back to his room while we got back
in the van and moved it to one side so other traffic could get through.
After a while he came back, and there were more directionless conversations
while the poor soul looked very confused, and then he went away
again, and we sat and waited, and then he came back and he wanted
the vehicle identification number (VIN).
There’s a story about a man who tested beer (what
a job!), and if the beer was good he had to send it to the warehouse
for shipping, and if the beer was bad he had to send it back for
the barrels to be emptied and washed. One day someone realised that
they seemed to getting an awful lot of bad beer, so someone went
to check what was happening. What they found was that good beer
had to be rolled up to the warehouse, and bad beer had to
be rolled back down for the barrels to be washed.
Our guard had found a way to check if the vehicle
was stolen. Once he had the VIN he could check the number was valid,
and then I presume check it against a police list of stolen ones.
Once he knew it wasn’t stolen he could send us on our merry way.
It was the path of least resistance. Of course, this theory doesn’t
work with people who have vendettas (small Italian scooters) or
axes to grind of any kind but our guard was just a bloke doing his
job. He had boxes to tick, and unfortunately, we’d been making it
difficult for him to tick them. When trying to get into the country,
the path of least resistance was simply to not let us in. When trying
to get out of the country ….
When he came back he simply handed over the passports
and said “go”.
“Thanks very mu …” I’d almost finished the sentence.
“GO!” he said angrily.
We didn’t need telling twice. OK, we did need telling
twice. We didn’t need telling three times.
“I don’t think he was happy about that” I said,
as we drove off into the darkness, grinning. To be honest, I don’t
blame him. We’d caused him a fair bit of hassle when he could have
been doing serious work watching people having their cars pulled
apart. He evidently wasn’t a bad bloke. He’d found the easiest
way to send us on our way that he could whilst still ticking all
the boxes. I’m assuming they weren’t just making us wait for the
sake of it, but heh, who knows. I can only apologise,
and I hope he never missed anything good that night on TV.
Anyway, the moral of this story folks, is that
when traveling in foreign climes, check what paperwork you need
before you go, and take it. It’s a lot less hassle for the border
guards, and it stops you looking like a complete and utter clown.