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Well That's All Right Then


I may have expressed a certain trepidation leading up to yesterday's interview at the Pakistani Consulate in London. Here's how it went.

The interview was scheduled for 11:30 and I was there on time at the regular visa counter and asked to take a seat. Another guy was there for an interview with someone else. We sat around for a bit then a cadaverous Ahmadinejad lookey-likey appeared with a wodge of passports and documents, selected three young Europeans and dragged them off upstairs. I should note that amongst the subsequent comings and goings I didn't see any of the three again. I began to reflect that this was not awfully promising.

After half an hour or so, there was a call for anyone waiting for an interview to come forward to which the other guy and I responded. We were told to wait for a minute and the man duly re-appeared and asked us to take a seat again. We continued to watch the visa world go by.

Around 12:45, the other guy asked if there was time to go for a cigarette and got the nod. And sure enough, moments later, the cadaverous Ahmadinejad lookey-likely appeared and identified me. I said the other guy was outside having a cigarette and he was beckoned in. We were invited upstairs to Mr Shozab Abbas' office ("Counsellor") and I was asked to sit outside and the other guy went in first.

I had plenty of time to observe the activity in the room next door where there was some not very well organized shifting of paperwork from filing cabinets into mail sacks and the removal of the filing cabinets and a safe and general piling of stuff everywhere. I later had the impression they may or may not have been looking to decorate the room but it seemed a very haphazard way of going about it.

In the meanwhile, I was getting snippets of conversation from the interview beyond the adjacent door: "good and evil," "Jesus" and other religion-oriented words were appearing. Was everyone getting the third degree about their religious beliefs and (given the non-appearance of the youngsters from earlier) being asked to leave if they didn't match up? One thing I did notice was that this interview was going on for ages. It wasn't until 1:30 that the door opened.

I was invited in. "Mr. I-an?" "No, Ian." "My apologies. What does your name mean?" I explained and he noted that he'd only been here for two weeks and was very keen to learn. He came up with the (common on the sub-continent) word "Britishers" which I pointed out we didn't use in Britain in my accomplished school-masterly tones which he was more than happy to accede to and we continued in this way chit-chatting about this and that and before you know it half an hour had passed. Cripes!

He remembered he was supposed to be asking me some question about my application and had a rummage through the paperwork for my application. There was a hand-written note in amongst it all where it seems someone must have contacted Lost Horizons to check if I was a legitimate customer of theirs and something must have been mentioned about the Northern Territories (ie. up in the hills -- where Lost Horizons are based) and that was written down as me going to the Northern Territories. This, of course, didn't match my (bogus) travel itinerary and herein lay the problem.

Good grief, I said, there's been some miscommunication. I'm not going to the Northern Territories, even though the travel company is based there, my tour is in Lahore and Islamabad in the plains. Oh, says he, I see, well that's all right, then, I was very welcome to visit Pakistan. Top!

And that, in a nutshell, was it. All the hanging about and being dragged down to London for the intimidating interview was because of a handwritten note.

That done, we continued to chit-chat and he noted that there was no problem at all in going to the Northern Territories -- the only problem being that it wasn't on my travel itinerary and the note said the tour company said I was going there. So that's good -- no security worries. We talked about the KKH and the landslide lake and it being the main road up to China etc. etc. -- me teasing out whether there were any known problems in that area.

Yak yak yak for almost another half hour and just before 2:30 we've exchanged emails and are new best friends. I can collect my visa today if I nip downstairs and get the payment sorted. Which I do.

So, in the end, a very nice chat with the man and arguably no lying involved. Just some economy with the truth.


While staring dumbly out of the coach window on Monday as it let off some passengers in Baker Street I'd noticed a Post Office over the way that did Travel Money so must do IDPs (International Driving Permits). I lodged that datum and immediately re-used it when I discovered that the Kyrgyzstan Consulate was just round the corner.

So, first thing after jumping off the coach in Baker Street was to pop into the Post Office. And queue. After queuing I asked for an IDP. A what? An International Driving Permit. Oh, we don't do those here, you'll have to go to Trafalgar Square. What? My knowledge of London isn't great but my gut feel says that Trafalagar Square is a little more than a block away. I did some quick research: the Post Office will only do IDPs in a few branches in that part of London, the nearest being 1.7 miles away in Camden. Trafalagar Square is two miles away. What a joke. As a double check, I tried against my Mum's postcode and, amazingly, you have to travel to Liverpool or Chester (tens of miles each) to get an IDP. What a nonsense! Or perhaps, how come Banbury's rather unassuming Post Office does IDPs?

I decided not to walk across old London town.

The Kyrgyzstan Embassy was indeed just round the corner and after pausing whilst the man in reception and some woman spoke at length in "foreign" I stepped in and said I'd like to apply for a visa. Yes, why not? Said the man. So, he checked I had the requisite form, passport, photo, cheque and return envelope and said it was his fervent hope that I'd get my passport back on Friday. By George, that's how visa applications should be done!

So, were it not for the (1st gen) iPhone's appalling data connectivity, I'd have been back on the coach north 20 minutes after stepping off it!

All that left was some website administrivia on the drive from Oxford back up to the Wirral to repair a sick machine. An unfortunately timed kernel panic caused the box to fail to come up cleanly after some new drivers had been installed. It required a whopping one command to repair -- a good job I could pop in on the way rather than make a five hour round trip! As has happened every time I've been there recently, I spent longer chatting to the bloke who runs the accounts and lives in an office well away from everyone else and clearly gets so very bored he'll talk at length to techies like me.

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