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Border stories

This is cross-posted from my Tinyletter, which you can subscribe to if you like.

I'm on a plane.

My friend doesn't know quite what she's going to do, in London. There are plans but they are difficult to pull off, impossible to be confident of. So maybe - she tells me, knowing I have the same thoughts - she could just go home, where life is easier and people are nicer and her family is close.

That is scary anyway, six years later, but the other hurdle is her partner. He is not from there and he cannot just go. She spends hours that would be anxious enough anyway on the website of the immigration department, wondering what life she will be allowed to lead.


A few weeks into wondering whether I can stay in my job, something comes up. It is almost perfect: imperfect enough to be believable, which was the mistake I'd made that last time. It is maybe the only job in the world that my ill-advised masters might actually be useful for. It is at one of my favourite publications. It is in Washington DC.

Before even bothering I try to find out if it's a dead end. The verdict is: maybe not. Then the recruiter is enthusiastic. At one point she manages four exclamation marks in a two-sentence email and when we speak - I leave a meeting early, pretending to a better reason - the enthusiasm is real, or at least faked beyond punctuation.

I say the right things, and so does she. Our collective enthusiasm has, somehow, increased. The conversation ends with her just needing to go and double-check with legal. A week later it's off.

The people they hire are much better than me and maybe Washington is the kind of place I'd hate. Still.


In February a friend asks if his friend can email me. She would like advice about coming to London, which I am not at all qualified to give. But I try. Some of it would be useful, in different circumstances.

In amongst the advice are questions, about what she is hoping for, so I can be more help. I am expecting a reply. But also amongst it is one particular question, because my friend is American and so is she: have you checked, that you can actually come? I do not hear from her again.


At home my mum gives me a book to read. It's frivolous. The main romance is a match made deliberately, but covertly, by a wise dog.

Two thirds of the way through the love interests says that she felt compelled to leave London. “Where would you go?” she asks. “New York seemed more exciting than Leeds. And I find myself thinking: this simply could not happen. This - this part, out of all of them - strikes me as unrealistic. And it is but we do not, most of the time, think about these things.


We all drink too much at farewell for a colleague. She is not really leaving; she'll be back. Once the visa comes through. I don't know if she believes this but I do not. So we drink too much.

In the meantime she will go somewhere else. Italy, maybe, then Croatia. We joke about a motor home. She phones in to meetings and has a special contract. The company signed it once they were confident it would not be their fault if she is caught working illegally, which she will be everywhere she goes.

I am wrong. There are not enough doctors, and although she is not a doctor after they tweak the rules the visa eventually comes through. She seems happy to have been away for a while. Still.


Another friend wants advice. In the end it's no use: her talents far outstrip my help and she looks after herself. By the time I see her again she has impressed enough people to be on the cusp of a job better than either of us knew existed.

But only on the cusp. She is stressed and will not admit even that she's getting close: they have not decided about her visa. She says she is the only person who could do this job, and although she is occasionally melodramatic she is probably right. Still they are taking their time. And it is all too easy not to believe.


Back in London I agree to be a character witness. Somebody has to be willing to attest that my methodical friend - he has been tallying days for years, knowing exactly when he can finally file this form - is good enough to be British.

If you followed the government advice this is all unnecessary: soon it will be easier, and cheaper. There will not even be a form. But who would trust them, now?

Anyway he is in too much of a hurry. The point of this passport is not to let him stay but to let him leave, without the risk that the place he has spent his whole adult life will decide he cannot come back.

He has his ceremony, and we have a little celebration, whose underlying cause I just try to ignore.


These are the good ones - the wanted, privileged ones.