The Ps and Queues

This past week we experienced the two polar opposites things that England excels at: 

Mundane QUEUES and Extraordinary PAGEANTRY.

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It all started with our Visa renewal so we may live and work in London for another year (or more).  The process is so complicated that it requires a special consultant to help navigate….kind of like those professionals you hire to jump the lines at Disney.  Except that we didn’t have a VIP pass and were not on our way to the Magic Kingdom but to the depressed, decrepit town of Croydon.   Here, we entered a bland nondescript government agency.

We were led to the first room and told to sit down in a seated queue Like musical chairs, we had to keep moving our position in the chairs lining the room until we were seated closest to the doorway.  Then it was time to queue again, empty our pockets, drop our bags into a bin, and walk through security just like at the airport.  From there we were ushered into small room that resembled a U.S. post office and waited for a free window to confirm payment.

Next we climbed up three flights of stairs and took a seat in the café area where we waited in the queue for our number to appear on the large flat screen above the coffee counter.  Soon we were called into yet another (food-less) room where we told to take yet another seat and wait in yet another queue for our number to be called.

Finally, we were led to a small cubicle where we told to sit tight while someone entered our data, a process that took 20 minutes despite all the piles of preliminary forms that had been completed prior to the visit.  Our pictures had to be taken on site.  Unlike in the cheerful US, in England there are no smiles allowed in visa or passport pictures…you know, that stiff upper lip thing.  Essentially, our pictures look like mug shots.

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We had to hold very still and be serious.  Of course, none of us could hold our heads in the proper positions.  The whole thing began to feel like something that would happen to the hapless Larry David in one of his Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes.  Katie kept leaning to the left. The pictures kept being re-taken over and over.  Jeff had to hold her in position.  Jackie got the giggles and couldn’t stop.  Then no one could keep a straight face for the camera…suffice it say, the humorless man behind the desk was not amused!

Six queues, 5 rooms, 2 representatives, 1 consultant, and 3 hours later, the visas were complete.

Now that we are officially allowed to stay in England, we thought it would be fun to celebrate the Queen’s birthday at the annual Trooping of the Colors.  Actually, we attended The Colonel’s Review, the dress rehearsal for the big day next week.  The Queen’s real birthday is April 21st, but it is celebrated every year in mid-June with an abundant display of pomp and pageantry featuring marching bands, parading royal guards, handsome horses, resplendent costumes, military precision, and waving regimental flags (or colors).

A picture is worth a thousand words.  I’ll be brief and let them do the talking, portraying what the British do best: The 3 Ps for pomp, parades, and pageantry:

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The colorful pomp in the Horse Guards arena near 10 Downing Street, the government home of PM David Cameron, 

was worlds away from the drab monotony of Croydon, the government home of the visa agency.

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