Friday, June 5, 2009

The Queen's Messenger

My daughter has no passport. I am trying not to panic. Fortunately because of our spontaneous trip to the UK at Easter, we noticed it ran out mid May. Another little marker of the swift fleeing of time. In the passport she is about 3 days old, eyes tightly shut, fat, squidgy, with black bottle brush hair. Nothing like she now looks, but then what 3-day-old baby stays looking that way? It never fails to draw a comment from passport control when travelling. She is now suddenly 5 & needs another 5 yr passport.

I spent a frustrating week queuing, when I didn’t need to queue, being fed wrong information by security guards, finding it closed, going back & forth to the embassy, handing over about twice as much as it costs in the UK & finally waving the passport renewal off to Rome. Passports cannot be issued in Albania from the British embassy, they have to go to Rome. From Rome, they go to London in the Diplomatic bag, only to then be brought to Tirana. Why? Who knows?

They say allow 6 weeks. We allowed 7. Actually it’s all we had - 7 weeks till the end of term. We fly next Friday. 7 days & counting, till we need our passports.

So this week I have been hassling the British Embassy. They were all very apologetic, and told me that Rome had screwed up. Rome said that the earthquake had put them behind with passport applications. Actually Rome admitted they were already behind & this had made them more so… Not sure how earthquakes affect passport applications….

The diplomatic bag arrives once a week on a Thursday from London. It arrives on the one flight (in the evening) as airfreight, so it can get off loaded if the plane is overloaded. Having grown up with the diplomatic bag being sufficient to smuggle the crown jewels in 'Contraband', it's rather disappointing to discover it can actually be offloaded as airfreight.....

So it often doesn’t arrive, it gets bumped. Guess what? This week it got bumped off.

This morning, obviously fed up with all my calls, the buck was passed & I got a call from the British consul himself. He was very apologetic, he said people this last week missed flights because their passport hadn’t come through.

It could still be in this week’s Dip Bag (which hasn’t arrived yet. Did I mention that? ) Or it could be in next week’s Dip Bag, which they open on Friday (that’s if it gets on the flight) We fly on Friday. Evening.

However he said he did have a last card tucked up his crisply starched double cuffed sleeve (I’m making that bit up, it’s just how I imagined it)

He said “‘The Queen’s Messenger’, who comes out once a month, is coming on Monday”. This tripped off his tongue without a flicker of self-consciousness.

The Queen’s Messenger?? I had never heard of this. This never came up as an option at school in my Careers interviews. What messages is he bringing from the Queen?


“You’re all doing really well”

“Do they have corgis in Albania?”

“I love the fish you have in Lake Ohrid” (that last one is true)

Sometimes I just love being British. Who else in the world would have a Queen’s messenger? Where else could the answer to “And what do you do?” be;

“Oh I’m the Queen’s Messenger”.

I googled it and made even more delightful discoveries. There is a whole corps of Queen’s Messengers, 27 in fact. They hand-carry secret & important documents “from which they must not be separated”, sometimes it is even chained to their wrist. This is fantastic stuff. They are often retired army officers, travelling in plain clothes, occasionally wearing a tie with greyhounds on it, symbol of a QM. They travel business class, & their diplomatic baggage has its own passport & cannot be x-rayed, opened, weighed or investigated by anyone. I bet that would be the career of choice for would be terrorists. It seems so eccentric, old fashioned, with a whiff of cold war & espionage about it, in our world of faxes, skype & email, & yet eminently sensible, especially having had many run ins with customs both here & in Sri Lanka. It’s the way forward I think.

So the British consul says he is going to ask ‘London’ to root around in the ‘back room’ (I'm just using all his jargon, don’t ask me for a translation) for the passport & The Queen’s Messenger himself will carry my little girl’s passport (hopefully chained to his wrist in his diplomatic case) and hand deliver this 'important document’ to the British embassy in Tirana.

That’s if they can find it. The consul reassuringly told me this would be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Failing that, we just have to hope there aren’t too many Albanians flying back to Tirana next week with their luggage of remittance goods from the UK. I can imagine though, I always come back overloaded.

I’m betting on the Queen’s Messenger. Come on Blighty don’t let me down. You’ve been doing this since 1485, it must be quite a good system.



Sarah said...

How extremely fascinating! I am British too - living in New Zealand - and I just love all the historical traditions, customs and eccentricities. I'm very hopeful that 'The Queen's Messenger' pulls through for you and delivers the passport in time! Good luck and best wishes.

Potty Mummy said...

The very best of (British!) luck...

Iota said...

Sounds like quite a good career option (except I don't like flying...) Hope the passport arrives.

Anonymous said...

Boy this brings a tear to my eye - if only British politicians were as reliable at the moment!

Hugs from all your Lee Abbey Falcon Camp friends - 7th one this year!

John F

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I met some Queen's Messengers once on the TransSiberian Railway. They travelled the route often and knew everything about it. I love that they are still going.

Hope they did their job properly and bought the passport out!

Enjoy your trip.

Anonymous said...

There are several books written by a Queen's Messenger ( all about his adventures. Great fun. I'm now off to Google for an application form....

DogLover said...

I had a Lotus car some years ago and met someone with the same model. Nice guy. He was a retired Queen's Messenger and travelled in plain clothes on his job ... !