The Brussels Diary: Police Budgets and Press Stories Edition

Even when David Cameron and his cabinet are on the right lines they still get it wrong. That and more in a busy week...

How many more coppers will hang up their hat for the last time?
Alexandra Swann
On 6 July 2012 10:20

This week should probably be named the Surrey edition, or the Home Office edition, or the haze of bureaucratic terror edition.  I left Brussels on Tuesday evening and will be in the UK until late Wednesday with – if all goes to plan – a passport. A real, five year British passport!

Since I had mine stolen around Grand Place six weeks ago I have been travelling on emergency travel documents which, although a rather beautiful sandy colour and bearing no mark of the European Union on the front, are expensive and limited to one named return journey. 

There is no longer a British Embassy in Brussels and to send off for a replacement passport would take six weeks and half a month’s salary via Paris.  I do not have that long and the fear of going to Strasbourg and being caught as a non-Schengen Brit was too much to handle so first thing Thursday morning I went to the Passport Office armed with around fourteen forms, countersigned photos etc. and now I wait and pray that the ink colour was the right shade, the photos acceptable…  

Did you know that among the acceptable professions for the person who counter signs your forms is “qualified travel agent”? I didn’t.

Anyway, for once this column is going to be a little more social diary than political commentary because the rest of this week has been spent in London and Surrey between meetings and friends and tonight is the Young Independence Summer Ball. 

It will also be a little shorter than usual because I have one of the most important interviews of my life to date tomorrow and am entirely preoccupied by that – which is far from ideal as I assume I will be quizzed on current affairs and I have been too consumed to take a great deal of notice this week.

London, beautiful wonderful London

I very rarely come home from Brussels.  When I first moved I missed home, my friends and residing in an English speaking area terribly but I figured that in the same way that my boarding school made its new 11 year old charges head off on a trip to Wales for their first weekend away from home, thereby prolonging the time between being reunited with family (we were weekly boarders, not full term), I should probably do the same and resist the urge to flee to Gare du Midi and home.

So, mission Brussels Emersion began and I have so far limited trips to England to a quick dash to surprise my Father after he had a knee operation and to film Free Speech.

What I didn’t count on was becoming so very quickly adjusted to continental existence.  I arrived at St Pancras at 9pm on Wednesday evening after a relatively painless journey and dash through border control. 

My emergency passport didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow when I flew to France last month but the evident confusion at the British border was comical. 

The Eurostar is a wonderful invention, it truly is, but if I ran it I would be far tougher; without fail, if a few people are late and the queues a little long they will hold the train for latecomers – I wouldn’t. They might not value their time, but I do. 

Anyway, from St Pancras I dashed across to the City to be reunited with some of my favourite people, the veritable Right of the Tories and a few surreptitious UKIPers, and suddenly felt somewhat out of place in my own country.  Drinking vodka, not beer or wine? People who don’t smoke? Standing around bars, not sitting outside watching the evening pass?  How very strange.

I had to leave early to get the last train home to Surrey before returning the next day for the passport people, lunch with a close friend, a rather fine evening out, then Surrey once more. I didn’t realise just how much I missed my friends until now, and leaving on Wednesday will be with a heavy heart.

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