October 18, 2004

Visa blues

I am going round the world in January. Exactly three months from today actually which is, in part, what spurred me on to write this entry. It's all very exciting and I constantly find myself telling complete strangers every aspect of the trip in so much detail it's almost as though they had actually asked me about it without coercion.

Despite my imminent departure, there are still a few tiny glitches in my plan – and a plan it is, I assure you – this is not some unfounded flight of fancy. Just a few short days before Christmas I have arranged to be homeless and unemployed so, unless I wish to indefinitely live at home with my parents (which, for the record, I do not), I have to leave the country, there's no two ways about it. However, all other preparation on my part has been somewhat lacking, I have to confess. Below, a summary of my progress, thus far:

Things I have: raw enthusiasm

Things I don't have: money; ticket; rucksack; insurance; geographical accuracy; fixed itinerary; immunity to any of the hideous maladies which, if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to be believed, I am certain to die painfully from should I set foot in any country that isn't the UK, unvaccinated.

Things that arrived this morning: passport

I think you'll agree, it's all a little worrying. Although the arrival of my passport is quite frankly a triumph – and a credit to the system, given that I only sent it off last Monday. However, never one to let reality stand in the way, I am going to London on Friday, confident that I will walk into the travel agents and will, without fussing, be able to book a ticket. Failing that we should be able to get some jabs while we're there. There's nothing like paying someone a ridiculous amount of money to stab you in the arm to make you feel like you're getting things started.

No, the most troubling aspect of the whole thing is the visas. These, as if you couldn't have guessed it, belong in the Things I Don't Have list, right alongside 'first idea about how to get them'. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly bright individual – bit slow on the uptake maybe, but I usually get there in the end – however the subject of visas is one that can, and frequently does, cause me great distress. I mean, how hard can it be – it's not rocket science presumably.

You have to have a visa to get into a lot of countries. Some of them you can buy on entry and some you have to apply for before you arrive. They have a limited validity (usually 30 days). All this, I understand. However, what no one will tell me is how to get ones you have to apply for beforehand, if you're not going to be in the UK 30 days before you want to go to that country. This information is nowhere. Nowhere. I assume you get them from the UK embassy of the country you are in at the time – but it doesn't actually say that anywhere. Is it withheld deliberately? For a wheeze? Are there officials everywhere doubled up, clutching their sides with mirth every time someone like me asks this question, unable to answer for the tears streaming down their cheeks? Is it just one of those things that only real travellers know? Or am I just missing the point? None of these would surprise me quite honestly. But if anyone out there has done this sort of thing, I'd be grateful if they felt like sharing their wisdom. Before I have to air the lack of mine.

October 11, 2004

There was a pigeon in our garden on Friday

There was a pigeon in our garden on Friday when I went to get my bike. A fat, grey pigeon lying on the ground, with its neck bent in a funny 'S' shape and its eyes closed. It was undoubtably dead – I didn't check its pulse or anything but it had a certain sereneness that I guess even pigeons only obtain once they have passed on. They clearly have their problems too.

Anyway, there it sat, on the gravel. In the way. The immediate question sprang to mind – what do I do about it? Is this the sort of thing one rings the landlady for? Was I expected, as the discoverer, to move it myself? I'm not a particularly squeamish person but I have to admit that I had no desire to dispose of a dead bird. Certainly not at that time in the morning. And, where the hell was I supposed to put it anyway? It seemed a bit weird to just put it in the bin but I think giving anything larger than a house spider a proper burial borders on lunacy. There aren't enough guidelines on this sort of thing if you ask me.

So, after a good few minutes of simply staring at it in cretinous silence, I did the only obvious thing. I left. I wheeled my bike very carefully around it and shut the gate behind me, feigning ignorance. It was still there when I got back of course but by then it was an existing feature of the garden – old news, if you will, and, therefore, not worthy of my attention. And, more to the point, no longer my responsibility.

It stayed there all weekend, happily decomposing underneath our kitchen window. It was very quiet about it and I doubt I would have given it much thought until this morning if I hadn't happened look out of the window early on Saturday morning. The sun was still quite low in the sky and it was shining in through the window. They're not overly clean, our windows, it has to be said, but in amongst all the other crap clearly highlighted by the light behind it was the ghostly imprint of the front of a pigeon on the glass. It's like a cross between a bad x-ray and that rabbit on the front of Donnie Darko. You can make out chest feathers and the wings (pointing downwards in mid flight, presumably, just before it smacked into a solid vertical surface) and if you look really carefully you can see the eyes and beak. And this is it's most truly disturbing quality. It kind of watches you as you're eating, like one of those paintings in the museum that follows you wherever you go. It would be funny if it wasn't quite so sinister.

I guess it answers the question of how a dead bird came to be lying on the floor. I didn't think it was possible 'cos our kitchen is an extension and the upstairs window is set way back but it's obviously the only explaination – the idiot thing flew, unaided, to its own death. Why, you've got to wonder, was it flying so low? I mean, was it looking for something, like old women scour the pavement for their purses? It had to have been going at a fair crack too, seeing as it was lying a good metre and a half away from the house and there's no smearing of the imprint. It's not like it accidentally bumped into the window on it's way down to land. No, this thing was going like a bullet from a gun on what was clearly a kamikaze outing. I'm no physicist (thank the Good Lord) but I'm surprised it didn't crash through the glass and land, spreadeagled, on the table.

It was gone this morning. I have no idea where it went or who took it – someone with a stronger stomach than me, no doubt as the decay must have well and truly set in by then. Maybe one of my housemates came upon it and thought they were the first ones to find it. They have always been more practical about these things than me. Or, maybe my landlady was making one of her very frequent, very nosy visits and decided it was her job to dispose of it after all. Maybe, I was wrong all along and it wasn't dead after all, it was just having a rest before picking itself up and flying off – possibly to have another attempt at a less reinforced window. Who knows? But, for a while at least – until the next heavy rainfall – we shall have the imprint of a pigeon on our window, greeting us every morning from beyond the grave.

At least I don't have to wheel my bike around it anymore.

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