I am planning a trip to the UK with my family. I am not a great planner. My preference is to see what the swell is doing, what direction the wind is, and if the snow is dumping before booking anything. Last minute? You get some deals. But when you will be travelling with four surfboards, three kids and a husband who asks ‘what are we doing now?’ more than the kids, you kind of have to channel your inner organiser. I would normally see people like this as officious and boring. Like, OMG look at her, knowing exactly where to find her travel documents in her suitcase (rolling of eyes). But I’m trying to take onboard advice from more seasoned travellers than me – like my mum for example – who has told me things like I should get a letter from my car insurer which will save money on car rental in the UK. And I should look up my NI number (national insurance) because it’s the devil’s mark that proves I really exist. Where would we be without numbers? I have such a devil’s mark, apparently, because I was born in the UK. I don’t know how this will actually help me in my travels, but I am going to look it up somehow. I am also going to get a British passport again. I have been away from the UK for so long that I don’t even know if they’re part of the EU anymore? And what that will this mean for us British passport holders? However I figure it’s always a good feeling when you have the right to stand in the local’s queue.
I remember travelling in Amsterdam in my early 20s. I’d been on the road for almost six months and was starting to get a bit tired of the effort of putting up necessary defenses against being a stranger to a land, and a tourist. I’d worn baggy jeans with big pockets and bought a cheese cutter cap. As I stood at a supermarket queue to buy some fruit and biscuits, the shop lady spoke to me casually in Dutch. I am monolingual. My ‘schoolgirl’ French exists of un petit peu (and is always accompanied by hand signals). Later in life, when I lived in Hong Kong for three years, I could speak mini bus Cantonese. Yauh Lok M-goy! (stop here – or literally, ‘fall down’ which is what you risk every time you stand to disembark the public light buses that are the cheaper option to cabs in Hong Kong). In other words, the English language is where it begins and ends unfortunately for me. I grunted and nodded to the shop lady in Amsterdam. Who knows what she was saying but it was probably a question and my response was no doubt rude or weird. Hopefully she was saying ‘your cheese cutter looks a bit stupid’ and my grunting response indicated that I agreed with her. But for a moment I was not a stranger in a strange land. I was local. It’s the same with airport arrivals. In New Zealand the visitors’ lane is not always longer than the New Zealanders lane. But it still feels good to stride right over to the New Zealanders line with my nose a little bit higher in the air than it needs to be. This is my place, I think to myself. You guys are visitors. Sad as it sounds, it’s probably one of the reasons I decide to make the effort and take advantage of being a dual citizen. Even though I haven’t lived or visited England in almost 20 years, I am English. It’s a minor identity crisis that I’ve grappled with over the years in Aotearoa New Zealand. My parents brought us kids to New Zealand when I was a two-year-old. I could barely speak any language then. They then returned to the UK a couple of years later and I did two years schooling in the West Midlands. By the time we returned to New Zealand when I was aged 6, I had a scary little Brummy accent. Now that I’m taking my family back to the place where I was born and where my parents were born and where their parents were born and where their parents were born (you get the idea), I will be able to stride through that airport arrival lounge like a local. On the other side of the world, far from what I’d consider my true identity, my culture as a Pakeha New Zealander, dual citizenship status will provide me with a sense of entitlement on this land. But first, there is one dreadful misery I must endure. The whole desire for dual citizenship could yauh-lok right here. Not only one but two mug shots of doom to have to carry on my person. Another passport photo. There is a local video and print shop in our home town and owner Barry is the only one willing and able, after a lifetime as a school headmaster, to follow the rigmarole of instructions in capturing one’s ‘true likeness’. I spend five minutes in the car putting on a daub of eyeliner under the eyes, a brush of mascara and a swipe of tinted moisturiser before facing the enemy head on. Deep breath, click, Barry peers at the back of his camera and concludes he’s got what he needs. Urggh. True likeness. It is quite clearly not a true likeness! I am not allowed to smile. Smiling is my makeup. Smiling is my way of erasing the jowls of 40-something. I look old. I look tired. There are no filters. No high angles. No lighting enhancement wand to tap and no black and white effects. OK it is a true likeness. It’s old me. Worst of all, every time I go through this it’s the same. Not once since childhood have I had a passport photo that I didn’t mind calling my true likeness. I look back on expired passports from my 20s and 30s and think ‘wow I look so fresh and young’. At the time I thought urghhh. Can we do that again? Footnote: If you thought I was going to include my passport photo with this blog, you can think again.
If you're spending a lot of your day in bare feet, then chances are you have found the kind of balance that Hook & Arrow writer Alison Smith has found in life.