"Assume and you make an ass out of you and me" - Oscar Wilde
We've been planning this holiday for a year.
During the week, my girlfriend Krissy and I had discussed the paperwork involved with traveling with a family of six. I'd talked about the drama of having to have passports up to date and residents permits updated. I had a quick look at my own passport that night and was relieved to see my residents permit had plenty of time before it expired, as did G's. What I'd got wrong was I assumed the children's expiry dates would be the same as mine. I still don't know why they're not.
Last night the first little traveler sent me an email while I was at dinner, it was all in caps "WE'RE GOING TO GO TO LONDON TOMORROW!!" I shared her message with everyone at the table, we all grinned at her excitement. "She's sooooooo excited I told them - both of the girls want to stand on London Bridge and sing London bridge is falling down".
We took two cabs to the airport, girls in one, boys in the other. We talked about what the weather would be like, the double decker bus and Hamley's toy store. After the baggage was checked in and the boarding passes were handed over relief began to set it. We were officially on holidays. We'd made it with plenty of time to spare, it was just a matter of getting on the plane.
When the immigration official stopped to flick through the fourth travelers passport I didn't think anything of it. When he then handed it to someone else who disappeared towards the side office with the more official looking officials, I looked toward G with a should we be worried about this face. He shrugged his shoulders. There was no explanation.
"Come" said the official looking official. "Three of your children's resident permits have expired, you need to go to immigration and have them renewed".
Time stood still.
"Can we do that here?" G asked.
"No - you will need to go on Sunday, it will take two or three days"
We remained standing in the same position, our boarding passes in our hands. People were beginning to stare. We had rented a house in London, we'd done the math on a hotel but it was cheaper to find a home. Part of the deal was paying a huge deposit upfront, we'd discussed what could go wrong, this wasn't one of the things we thought of.
"You need to leave" said the official has he motioned us towards the door.
This couldn't be happening.
The little travelers began asking questions "What are we doing Mummy?" "Are we still going to London?"
We went back to the check-in counter, they suggested the visa department on the other side of the airport. As we ran across the car park in clothes that were meant for a different temperature, I saw the faces of the little travelers falling apart, but by far, G's face was the worst. G's always good in a crisis, there's never a voice that is raised, there is always logical thought. He's the opposite of me. Over the years we've had a myriad of travel dramas but they are rarely of our own doing. How could we not know that their visas had expired? How did it get missed?
I listened to him tell our story to the woman at the visa desk. It became clear that there was nothing we could do. I took the children outside and sat them against a wall. The first little traveler began to cry, and then the third, the second and the fourth sat with their head in their hands.
When G came to join us he looked shattered. "We'll just have to go home, we can't do anything until the Immigration Office opens, I'll go first thing on Sunday".
I thought about our accommodation, the cost of our tickets, the friends we'd arranged to meet. G had been talking about this holiday for months. He needed to get away.
"You go - you need the holiday, I'll sort it out on Sunday" I really wanted him to go.
"I can't - I'm their sponsor, I'll need to be here to sign the paperwork - you should go"
While G changed the tickets, paid extra costs and stared at the wall, wondering how this had all happened, I sat with the little travelers and learnt how each one of them handles a crisis. The fourth little traveler had moved on, the third little traveler sat pulling at his wobbly tooth wondering if he'd still get British pounds from the tooth fairy, he'd had it all planned. As they hugged the second little traveler goodbye they gave pinky swears on what she could do in London on their behalf. "Promise me you'll ring me from a red telephone box" asked the first little traveler.
This morning the second little traveler and I woke up in Nottinghill, we are 200 yards from the Kensington High Street and we can see people making their way to the Portobello road markets. The house is beautiful but empty. It's so quiet without the extra bodies and the added layers of excitement. Over toast and tea the second little traveler and I have discussed heading out this morning. "Let's just look around for now Mummy - let's save the double decker bus and The London Bridge for the others when they get here".
I have my fingers and toes crossed that their permits can be organized quickly but I've heard the horror stories. We'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime I remain in holiday limbo, I'm at my destination but only half of me is here, the rest is back in Doha, waiting.
How about you? Have you had a holiday nightmare recently?