Jailbird

I am writing this from a detention holding cell in London’s Heathrow airport, in my trusty moleskine.

My uneventful 13.5hr flight from Hong Kong landed at 04:50. After walking through kilometres of corridors I was at passport control by 05:20, and was in detention from 5:25. I was not given any explanation and was left there for an hour.

At 6:30, two officers who were handling my “case” escorted me to baggage claim to get my suitcase. They then took me to an area with stainless steel benches, and there was a lady wearing blue rubber gloves*. All of my bags were thoroughly searched, they even read every piece of paper. The whole time I was being questioned, with the same things being paraphrased and asked again, from different angles, over and over. I was relieved when the begloved lady started searching someone else’s bags, and not searching me.

After the search I was taken back to the first detention area and given a small plastic cup of water. Perhaps it is Stokhom Syndrome, but the two officers dealing with me both seemed to be nice guys, there was never any maliciousness. There were a few other detainees in this area, and none of us knew why we were there. There was a guy wearing a Springboks jersey, so that is probably why he was there. The American girl was taking it very personally and complaining to the guards in the typical American “I know my rights” kind of way. I bet she got deported. During the next two hours I was visited a few times by my captors and the situation became less unclear. Their worry is that they are afraid that my visa for The Netherlands was not valid and I would be deported back to the UK. So their plan was to deport me to Hong Kong in a pre-emptive move. Whilst not getting in to NL would certainly be unpleasant for me, I don’t understand why that would be bad for the UK even if it does happen.

After this two hours they brought me the happy news that the paperwork was complete. Now they could put me in a cell, and they led me into a corridor past heavily locked metal doors and into a small office where the photographed me a few times and gave me some forms. There were charts on the wall showing how to take good fingerprints but unfortunately they did not go that far. They took me to another room and made me empty out my pockets and took all my bags, money etc. I managed to convince them to let me keep my pen and moleskine (paper notebook).

They put me in the holding cell and gave me a sandwich and a cup of tea. There was a payphone in the room and one of the guards went and bought me a phone card (with my money, even though the detention documents specified that I could contact someone on Her Majesty’s expense). I called Mel on her mobile and she was very worried. They had already called her a few hours previously to verify my story and since then she did not know what was going on. She told me that she had called Adam and he had correctly assumed responsibility**.

The room I was in was perhaps 8m x 8m with a number of chair benches, the same as you would find in the airport waiting areas. There was a TV on, a payphone and two bathrooms. One wall was all glass and the guards were on the other side. Of course we were locked in the room but were not treated as dangerous, they were happy to open the door to take requests etc. There were seven other people in there, one of whom I knew from the other detention area.

Shortly after 10AM, 4.5 hours after I was detained, I was released. I was given a 6 month visa, but a flag was added to my file, such that if I stay after next Thurday then Bad Things will happen to me. The whole experience was not so bad, I was treated well, the worst part was that I wanted to sleep but couldn’t. And also the fear of the expense if I was deported. Being such a geek, I was thinking about what i could write here, the whole time.

* I was almost tempted to ask for a pair of the gloves, as they were the exact “two by two, hands of blue” gloves.
** just jokes, you don’t control me

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4 comments

  1. Oh you can be so lucky – All the travelling I have done over the many years and I didn’t get to experience anything like this. Just shows that I am not with the program

  2. Ha ha… I must admit the first thing I thought was “oh no, I convinced Daz to go back to the UK”, and the second was “Daz is going to love this for the blog”.

    Maybe you have found true calling as an renegade blog reporter, kind of like John Safron (name?) with an RSS feed instead of a camera. Think of the click through income$!$! You would of course need to be arrested in as many countries as you can but eventually I’m sure you would get a free ride back home.

  3. I’ve not been through heathrow once yet without being questioned, frisked and having my bags searched. Not -once-. One time I got the same treatment as you, I was put in a little room and asked all sorts of questions (even ones I didn’t think they had any right to ask, like “Does your husband know you are travelling here to stay with another man?” They made it sound so dirty, when I was just visiting a friend. I was tempted to say “Yes, because the other guy’s wife is on his way to my husband now.” but I didn’t)

    That airport sucks.

  4. Shut down all the garbage compactors on the detention level!

    Bloody hell. That sounds like it would have been really scary while it happened.

    Apparently, I need to bribe the authorities even more to keep you in a cell. Dammit.

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