Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

“Would you mind coming this way, sir?”
November 23, 2009, 01:43
Filed under: London, Travel

“Who me?” I said.
“Yes,” said the small, squat man wearing a thick coat that was way too big for him, as he stepped out from behind a temporary customs barrier in the international arrival hall at St Pancras station, London. He lead me down a corridor and around behind a series of screens before asking me to remove my aging backpack and take a seat on a padded bench with flattened padding. “Where have you come from tonight?”
“Like everyone else; on the Eurostar from Brussels.”
“Can I see your passport?”
I hand it over. After an uncomfortably long silence, only broken by the crisp flicking of pages, he says: “I see you’ve entered the UK through three different ports over the last, let me see, about, six or seven weeks. Once via ferry through Harwich, this one a few weeks ago at Gatwick airport, and now tonight by train. And all these trips look like they originated in Amsterdam. What is the reason for this visit, sir?”
“A seminar.”
“Where at?”
“Regent’s College in Regent’s Park.”
“A seminar on what?”
I wanted to say; ‘No need to apologise’, but chickened out and explained that it was a writing seminar by a famous screenwriting coach focussing on the art of story telling. Passport Man didn’t seem convinced.
“Story? What sort of stories?”
“Any story. It’s quite general from what I understand, but it looks at the craft behind telling a good story, whether for stage, page or screen.” That last phrase he seemed to like, and was from the marketing collateral of Robert McKee’s web site, the seminar’s presenter.
“Story?, like The Da Vinci Code?”
“Exactly. Dreadful writing but a half decent story.”
“Do you want to be the next Darren Brown?”
“If you mean Dan Brown; then yes, but hopefully with better writing.”
He continued flicking the passport pages so briskly that I thought he’d rip the paper.
“I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels,” he said.
“You must have liked the story.”
“Yes,” and the page flicking of my passport continued and when he got to the end he would lick a finger and start flicking back through again. Was he looking for something, for he seemed to be?
“And what is your business in Amsterdam?”
“I’m studying.”
“What are you studying?”
“Writing, which is why I’ve come to London for this Story seminar.”
“Where are you staying?” he continued.
“As it says on the arrival card, the Radisson Edwardian on Gloucester Road.”
“How many days is your stay?”
“Then back to Amsterdam?”
“Yes; I’ve got a lecture Monday afternoon.”

It was now well after 10pm. I had finished class at 3pm the same day (an autopsy of Hamlet) and rushed to Centraal to catch the Intercity to Brussels to connect with the last Eurostar for the day. It was just the two of us in this cordoned area of St Pancras station. Little noise was heard, and it was very bright. Passport Man tapped on a keyboard. He frowned often as he looked up with just about every key stroke to squint at the monitor.
“Is there a problem?” I asked.
This forced him to stop typing, answer “No,” then resume typing.
I checked my mobile for any messages. None, except the welcome texts from the local network provider. After another long uncomfortable silence, he closed the passport and handed it back, saying: “Thank you sir. Sorry to hold you up. You may go,” as he pointed to the way out.
“Thank you.” I gathered my pack, pocketed the passport and said: “Just out of interest, why did you pick me?”
“No real reason. It’s mostly random. But we have to patrol arrivees. Just part of the job.”

I then made my way into the bowels of the Underground and waited for a Hammersmith & City or Circle line train to take me to Baker Street and my hotel. While waiting for the train, a bedraggled, sodden beggar began his ritual, shuffling along the platform with outstretched hand. Must be raining. After the first few abusive dismissals he gave up and slouched his way past me to the end of the platform not bothering to bother anyone. After that he doubled back and stood right in front and said: “Spare some change?”
What’s with all this singling out tonight, I thought? I waved him away with a degree of  disdain that no man deserved. The train soon pulled up and I tried to squeeze on. Before the doors closed behind me, I alighted, walked over to the beggar, who was still on the platform, and gave him all the coins I had; it amounted to just over a pound.
“Thanks brother,” he said with more sincerity and gratitude than any man should be forced to convey.

“Welcome to London: mind the crap.”


1 Comment so far
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Gee, I think it’s your rusty and dusty backpack that makes you look suspect perhaps? Just kidding, if you told him your second trip was to attend a funeral perhaps he would have shuffled awkwardly and let you through? That’s what I said at Heathrow when I was questioned. True reason, true story.

Comment by Anita

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