Alight Fingers Juggling and Circus Skills Workshops  

Balls To The Baltic - Latvia or Bust



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 monologue.

At this point I just became very blasé about the whole thing.

“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 very puzzled.

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 mind.

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.



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