“…can I see the original..?”
The whole world is living in interesting times.
For millions that ‘interest’ has led to sickness, misery and death. It has resulted in running out of oxygen, pressure on critical care beds and nurses in tears after a long hard shift helping people merely to breathe. Doctors and nurses in direct contact with patients have fallen ill, many have died. Never in my own clinical experience and in health care did I ever foresee that asking staff to care for patients could put themselves at high risk. Bear in mind we have had infectious diseases ever since Eve offered Adam a dodgy apple, resulting in catching the disease of knowledge, which in God’s infinite wisdom was also a sin. A tragic consequence of that story is that women have taken the blame for men’s fuckwittery ever since.
Families have been separated and even old married couples have had to die alone. Who knows how many people are still experiencing the long term symptoms of fatigue and brain fog, making a return to their normality a long and arduous journey. Others are angry and nearly riotous as their freedoms have been curtailed. Some of those freedoms include being able to carry on with their business, others are about being able to party in large groups and get totally pissed. My freedom to sit upon the ground and think of many things has not been affected. I am still able to take 15 minutes to make a coffee while I check to see if my investments have taken a nose dive on the international money markets. If anything, I have become enormously richer because I own shares in companies making PPE, vaccines and Conspiracy theories. I’ve personally no need to text the Prime Minister to facilitate access to cash breaks.
Things could be worse.
I could be in Redruth without access to baby wipes. I could be in charge of ensuring the conduct of certain politicians, whose dirty hands are matched only by their dirty minds, is deemed to be ethical and above board. I could be polishing turds. I could be in charge of Michael Gove’s Public Relations Department with the remit of making him seem charming, kind and warm, you know, the sort you’d be happy to see your daughter engaged to.
Instead, I’m up at a six in the morning, to get to King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, to catch a flight to London.
At the hotel, a member of staff asks if I’ve booked a taxi. My plan was to book an Uber straight after checkout.
The more perspicacious of you might have an inkling of what is about to happen.
I am reliably informed that as it is Ramadan, so getting an Uber might be tricky. You see, Ramadan involves daytime fasting and night time feasting. Many Saudis are up until the wee small hours and thus still asleep until midday. This includes many Uber drivers. So my chances of getting to the airport quickly, began to diminish. After the fourth attempt, my helpful hotel staff member called Imranaa, gets a taxi for me. Marvellous. I ask if the taxi driver takes card or cash….
A prize to to those who can correctly guess the answer, bear in mind you have a 50/50 chance of success boosted by any foreknowledge you may have of Middle Eastern taxi driver competencies. As a clue, in Jeddah you also have a 50/50 chance of being driven by a Louis Hamilton with anger issues.
My usual morning Uber to the office costs about 21-24 Riyals depending upon which way the camel farts. The airport is just a few miles further and I have paid 50 Riyals before when catching a flight to Medina. That price included a generous tip. Today, I part with 100 Riyals. Why? Ramadan? Because I look like a stupid white man in need of assistance with the parting of cash? Has Allah requested that all infidels get charged double?
And what do I get in return? The chance not to catch an airborne infectious disease that results in willy rot? Who knows. I’m being churlish, because I’m on my way home. I’ve not been involved in one of Jeddah’s infamous road accidents and the driver appeared to want to stay alive as much as I did. I did not have to sit next to a crying baby named Damian. As things stand currently, parting with 100 Riyals to get to an airport is a first world luxury not open to the myriad migrant workers earning a sheep’s testicle per hour to keep the lights on, the floors cleaned and the sewers flowing. You are probably wondering what 100 Riyals looks like in money you’d recognise…so, that would be about £20. In the grand scheme of the Universe hurtling towards its ultimate implosion, in a shower of black holes and quantum singularities resulting in the annihilation of everything, including the conscious thoughts of all of the world’s geniuses who have ever lived, and Brian, £20 is not going to make much difference. I have spent more than that on a night out in Camborne between the hours of six and Kebab.
Interesting times means complying with regulations which have been added to all the other airport security measures we all know and love. I have had to get a PCR test in Jeddah which has to be done within 72 hours of flying, then pre book two PCR tests upon return in the U.K., fill out a Passenger Location Form which can only be filled in within 48 hours of take off, before self isolating for 10 days. I have printed copies of the Jeddah pre flight PCR test and the PLF which records that I’ve booked PCRs in the U.K.
Proper job. Sorted. Easy. Relax. I can present all relevant papers upon request.
Currently, as I sit upon the plane waiting for take off, I’m listening to two male middle aged, middle class Brits loudly sounding off on Covid tests and ethnic minorities. You’ve met the sort. Done well for themselves, used to bossing the little people, “don’t like darkies” Home Counties types. In fact they are suspicious of any ethnic group who failed to build an empire. They share the persecution complex of many older, white wealthy men who run countries, corporations and car shows who think women, gays and brown people are taking over the world. In the US they’d be calling Biden a communist. Back home, they’d be texting tame politicians offering to refurbish their flats in return for access to cock sucking special advisors who’ll recommend policies to facilitate the turning of blind eyes towards stealing the futures of gig economy workers while offering them the opportunity to die before they receive the state pension age.
Oh, and so I’m now playing PC bingo.
And there it is…. “…everything is so politically correct now….and minorities are running things…”
These two are health, security, and social policy ‘experts’ but their knowledge of public health, epidemiology, medicine and virology is in inverse proportion to their sense of self importance. They no doubt get their information from authoritative sources of medical and public health knowledge such as that offered by Jeremy Clarkson, the Patron saint of Bombast. They have worked in senior positions here in Saudi Arabia, paid off their mortgages, bought boats and now are geopolitical, sociological and cultural experts as well. They are confidently stating that planes ‘never leave on time’, said in that confident tone of voice reserved for those who know just enough to instil a measure of gobshitery unmerited by actual knowledge, so as to inform anyone unable not to listen that they are airline operating experts as well.
This is another first world problem, having to listen to c*nts in Business class.
I’m surprised they’ve not been banged up in a small room at the airport for demanding to be fed dates as they show their passports and PCR documentation.
Back at check in, I await my turn patiently. There are several check in desks open and several queues formed. I ask a passing smartly uniformed official in a grey suit if I’m in the right line, as some are marked ‘Saudi Priority’ and others are not. My pre printed boarding pass says I’m ‘Saudi Priority’ which does not mean much to me as we all seem to waiting in similar length queues. He of course informs me that indeed I am, inshallah, with that air of obsequious confidence that I have experienced before. It’s that sort of confidence you feel just before a minor operation only to wake up three weeks later in intensive care minus a body part, bladder control and the ability to reason. He also asks to where I’m flying. “London” I answer more in hope than expectation as I wonder if the pilot is an ex taxi driver.
In the queue next to me is another male, middle aged, hefty middle class Brit, with four very big, very heavy, suitcases to the good, being told by the charming check in Assistant that he is ‘in the wrong queue’ after telling her he is flying to London. I’m spotting a pattern. He begins to remonstrate with all the authority of a toppled dictator being shown the door by the leader of the Coup D’Etat, not realising that non compliance with the check in assistant’s request could result in an uncalled for (by him) meeting of his bollocks and an electrical power source. I’m not sure if his status as ‘priority’ counts for much. I learn he is Business class, like me, flying to London, like me, and “was told this was the correct check in desk”, like me.
I look at my own queue. I’m next in line to a family of four. Mrs is dressed in colourful abiya and head scarf and is in charge of two trolleys, umpteen heavy cases and bags, and two glued to the screen teenagers, a boy and a girl. Mrs humps the bags onto the conveyor belt while teenagers helpfully assist by getting in the way while watching some scum bag influencer making a YouTube video selling hope in Dubai. Sir, dressed in Primark quality polo shirt and jeans, stands to one side also engaged in something interesting on his screen. It might be a horse race, his bank account or an interesting situation on Porn Hub*.
I’m in a dilemma because I’ve been told this is the “right queue” when next door things look set to escalate to full on red faced entitled vein popping. A supervisor intervenes and smooths things over so that he indeed can check in where he is. Meanwhile my family have eventually checked in the bags, but proceed to linger around the check in desk oblivious to the fact that other people (me) might want to do the same. As I stand patiently, I am aware that on my left has arrived two uniformed bag handlers and a trolley stacked to the roof with suitcases. They are non Saudi migrant workers resplendent in baggy grey fleece tops and jogging bottoms, yellow baseball hat and ‘Baggage Team’ emblazoned on their backs. I think of offering them two sheep’s testicles as a tip to “f*ck off to another queue” as they appear to be pushing in front. My British hackles nearly rise, as you all understand our attitudes to queuing.
As the Red Sea of the screen absorbed family finally parted, I take my opportunity to nip to the desk and present my credentials. This is going to be fine.
My passport is perfect. All correct. In date and bearing my likeness and as passports go it is the gold standard. I could not find fault with it and neither could the check in assistant. I suggest that passports such as mine would have no trouble in gaining access to the fabled stables of Hercules, should the need arise.
I spent several hours in the previous few days checking and rechecking regulations for entry back into the U.K. I am more familiar with the covid and travel gov.uk website than most civil servants and Dominic Cummings. I know how officialdom can work. It is no use trying to refer to policy as written by head office if the official in front of you takes a different view. A female Saudi journalist was turned away from a shopping mall by a male security guard because she was not dressed in the full black abiya, despite having printed a copy of the Crown Prince’s statement on the acceptability of female dress.
“…but, but the Crown Prince said…”
“…I don’t care if Allah himself said, you’re not coming in here dressed like the whore of Babylon and that’s my final word…now fuck off and take your obscenely arousing, if off limits, tits with you…”
That’s how it works.
So, when I was asked for my Jeddah PCR test certificate I proudly handed over my printed version which has all the details one could possibly want and more so. Everything was in order. Date, test result, laboratory, doctors signature, contact details.
“This doesn’t have a stamp”.
I instantly recognise officialdom rearing its authoritarian head resting upon its ‘no discretion’ shoulders. Many front line staff are given strict orders about rules with absolutely no authority to make on the spot rationally assessed decisions. It makes no difference if a terrorist never ever shows up wearing a chicken costume with a back pack with ‘Bomb’ written in pink fluffy letters on it, but if you do that then be prepared for a intimate bout of fisting from Security.
A cold chill runs down my spine. I instantly try to calculate how long it would take me to get a taxi…bastards….to the PCR test lab, get it stamped and then return. I can’t make that calculation because the adrenaline begins to flow in the flight or fight response. Fighting is not an option at an airport and there is nowhere to run to. A supervisor is called over when she asks,
“Have you got the original certificate as this is just a printed version” said to someone who actually did the printing and should know.
The U.K. gov.uk site clearly stated that a PCR test certificate should be presented, and could be translated into Spanish or French and written with the blood of the lamb, it could be a copy printed or email. Nowhere does it say the original has to be presented. Yesterday my colleague flew from this very terminal with a printed certificate such as mine and did so without let or hindrance.
“No, I don’t have the original”.
The supervisor checks my copy and something in Arabic, which contains the words “PCR” and “Twat”, was said. Meanwhile my innards are turning to jelly. The clock is ticking. In another queue, some people are being turned away for not having a PCR certificate.
“Did they send you an email?”
Yes, they did send me an email, that’s how I got the copy printed off! I frantically search my phone’s email inbox for the lab’s message, praying that while I did so that the phone retained enough power. That was irrational because I had charged it overnight, and I had a power bank. But then, being confronted with official authoritarianism, which has the power to make your life as miserable as a Cornishman who has dropped his pasty into the red river, makes one irrational.
I brandished the email aloft as much as the lady of the lake held up Excalibur to anoint Arthur as King. She stared at the screen. He stared at the screen, they both stared at the paper certificate. Time stood still. The testicles of destiny were being held in the steely grip of the hands of fate. Would I be boarding or would I cut my wrists and bleed out right there and then at the check in desk.
May Allah be praised. Passport checked, PCR test certificate accepted…hurrah, I’m off.
“Have you booked PCR in the U.K.?”
May I see your PCR booking in the U.K.?”
Suffice to say, I have to again check my phone’s email in box for the invoice that was sent to me. The printed passenger location form which states I have booked PCR and has the invoice number to prove it, was not good enough evidence. The email on the phone thankfully was.
I wondered what other unknown hoop I was going to have to jump through.
Did I have to prove I had eaten breakfast, was wearing clean underwear, that although I had once seen a reefer I was not now a drug addict and that listening to Gary Glitter in the 1970s does not make me a kiddy fiddler?
Bags checked, adrenaline levels returning to normal, I made my way towards the security checks. I passed several more check in desks which had a sign saying “U.K. and US passengers check in here”. Now they tell me.
Sitting on .the plane, nursing a coffee, I reflected upon just how many staff and checks I had just passed through . After the initial check in micro trauma, I had to show the PCR test certificate another three times and waited for the “have you got the original….” which thankfully never came. At the security scanner I stood alone, shoe and belt less as my carry on bags were scanned. I counted eight dark blue uniformed, gold badged, security guards hanging around my one scanner. At the departure gate itself was another scanner with another eight dark blue uniformed, gold badged, security guards.
“…careful with that bag” I said to one of them, “I don’t want the cocaine bag breaking open all over my ipad”.
The downside of all of this security is the panic one feels if breaches of the rules have been seen to have occurred resulting in one’s sorry arse being frogmarched to the nearest rat infested dungeon while the Crown Prince decides in which decade you might be considered for parole.The upside is that I hope that those who actually should be caught being twats have been caught being twats thus leaving the rest of us sure in the knowledge that we are existing in a low twat zone while at 40,000 feet.
Meanwhile, migrant workers in Jeddah are street cleaning in 37 degrees of humidity, disinfecting a thousand curry stained hotel toilets and being unseen by rich Westerners. They do so for a sheep’s testicle an hour, while they worry about their families back home in India dying for the lack of a vaccine or oxygen.
* This is an offering on the internet for those who take a lively interest in the amazing capacity of human beings to prostrate themselves in unusual positions and locations.
One thought on “Peace and Security”
Far out. I would have been shitting myself. Haha. I don’t think i will be travelling outside of Australia any time soon. Enjoy your time back home.
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