- A Change of Courrier
I never expected it to be easy. Lots of people warned me of that, but it’s hard enough battling my way through the bad cop, bad cop duo of English and French bureaucracy without also thinking we’re on the brink of nuclear armageddon.
My S1 health form, ‘sent out on December 19th’, may be quite futile in the face of post-apocalyptic health issues but dammit, it’s the principle of the thing so when it finally arrived on January 28th, I felt a small fillip of optimism despite the end of the world being disturbingly nigh. How could it take over five weeks to arrive though? Even allowing for Christmas and New Year that’s some achievement. And why was it sent via the Netherlands? Is UK bureaucracy sending out documents on some Brexit valedictory tour of Europe? The Netherlands? Really HMRC? Believe me, I’ve spent 12 years doing the regular commute between France and the UK, and I can tell you that the Netherlands is an unnecessary diversion at best; absolute institutional fopdoodlery masking as ‘system’.
I keep trying to take these things in my stride, I really do. I’ve had a month off and thought I’d be more relaxed but I’m always, permanently it seems, perilously close to a fist-shaking hissy fit. I’ve learnt over the years to be fatalistic about travel, adopting a “so there’s a delay, what are you gonna do?” attitude to the endless ways in which transport does its utmost to avoid punctuality. But, despite having that month off, the quiet, stolid, very British sense of resignation has disappeared and I sat fuming, trapped on an overnight bus slamming my forehead against my tiny ‘convenience tray’. I occasionally take the bus from London Victoria coach station to Lille, partly because, like women who’ve just given birth, I quickly forget the pain and the ignominy and partly because it’s cheap. It’s also convenient. The bus leaves London at half eleven, it arrives in Lille at about six; I take the TGV to Tours at seven, pick up the car at ten and collapse through the front door at 11. It’s unpleasant yes, but I’m home for Sunday lunch, a rare treat indeed.
Only this week, I wasn’t.
Ten minutes into the journey the bus driver announced that we wouldn’t be taking the tunnel as usual, but the ferry instead, thus adding at least two hours to my journey. I have to say my fellow passengers seemed to greet this timetable bombshell with remarkable calm, though it meant I had a number of seats to myself as my constant wailing of ‘No! Why me?’ cleared my immediate area. There was no explanation as to why we weren’t going via the tunnel, just that we weren’t. “But I have a train from Lille at seven?” I said to the driver, when I cornered him on the ferry. He shrugged his shoulders and I briefly toyed with the idea of throwing him overboard before realising that that would probably add about twenty years to my journey home.
I eventually got in at about four in the afternoon, exhausted, twitchy, angry and determined to claim recompense. Missing my train, for which I’d cleverly, I thought, bought a cheap non-refundable ticket for €29 meant that I had to wait for two hours for the next train and pay another €56 to get a seat. The reasons for taking the bus, cost and getting home early, were both ruined as it was now more expensive than the Eurostar option and it had taken longer to get to rural France than a UK health form. It felt good to write a snotty, sarcastic letter to the OUIBUS people and it set me up nicely for what I perceived would be a week of dealing with ‘the man’.
Finally, on Monday afternoon I had the dossier for my French nationality application complete. It’s been quite some undertaking getting everything together and I looked at the pile of documents, all checked and re-checked, and hoped it would be enough. I also thought that at this stage I’d feel a little wistful, contemplative perhaps, about ‘becoming French.’ That I’d suddenly get a wave of Blighty-nostalgia, or even feel a little guilt at the prospect. Nope. Not a bit of it. I look at the UK now and the direction it’s going in and feel no compunction about ‘leaving’ at all. A wrecking ball has been taken to common sense, vandals are urinating on the place, and I find it depressing.
A small paragraph at the bottom of the Article 50 bill published this week states that the UK will also leave EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. It doesn’t sound much but this institution funds much of Britain’s nuclear research. How is Britain going to become ‘more global’, ‘more competitive’ if it destabilises industries as previously successful as Nuclear Power. Where is the sense in that? Scientists will just go abroad, following the bankers to the continent where they’ll shortly be joined by everyone else who can no longer stomach the effects of the Article 50 suicide note.
Rather than feel any guilt about becoming French, I feel quite excited. I re-read my application form again, for about the fiftieth time. I’d even spotted the difference between the Cerfa 12753*01 form and its sister the Cerfa 12753*02, just a miniscule change asking if you’d like to be kept up to speed with the application via email. This seems remarkably up to date for any bureaucracy let alone the French one, especially as its UK equivalent is currently on a go slow because of a fear that Avian Flu may affect their use of quills. So I sent it off, I declined the opportunity to have my name ‘Francisised’ as the form had it. I can understand why applicants would want to do so, may be it shows willing and I hope it won’t play against me that I didn’t. But the French version of Ian Moore is Yann Lande and that makes me sound like some low-rent version of Dollywood and nobody wants to carry that about.
So now I wait, the next stage is that I’ll be called for interview where I’ll be tested on my French knowledge, the politics, history and so on, geography (note: the Netherlands is not in the Loire Valley). Personally I think if you can negotiate your way through French bureaucracy enough to get the application and supporting documents together in the first place, then citizenship should just be granted as a reward for your endeavours. I’m getting good at this bureaucracy lark, I even got a swift response from OUIBUS who were so mortified at my ferry-tunnel fiasco that they sent me a free ticket for another journey! It’s hard to be overjoyed at that result. I mean, could there have been a worse outcome? Imagine! That’s like gaining French nationality just as Marine Le Pen is sworn in as President… uh-oh.
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