It’s been a manic morning requiring precision planning for childcare followed by the mad sardine tangle of the Tube that I have become so unused to. My aim today is to get a Power of Attorney attested.
So here I am here at the Indian High Commission in Aldwych, London, standing in a snaking line of over 400 people at 7.45am. I am around 250 people along – a common line for people surrendering passports, applying for passports/ renewals/ Overseas Indian Citizenship/ Person of Indian Origin status and all other consular services.
The Indian love of paperwork dictates that every person in queue at the Indian High Commission have a file (or knapsack) overflowing with sheaf’s of paper. Documents and their photocopied triplets all to be chewed up by the Officialdom of Government. In front of me is an Aunty (whom am I kidding, I am an aunty but she is way older than me and that makes her my aunty) in her sneakers and polyester trousers, clutching her knapsack for dear life. She turns around almost the minute I join the line and begins a conversation which includes (but is not limited to) where are you from, what do you do, why are you here, where is your husband, was it a love marriage (I kid you not) - all rapid fired in about 3 minutes, the answers almost inconsequential. I am tired, most of my answers to her are lies and it’s not even 8am. I plug my ears with my ipod and tune her out.
The line moves so slowly that my chances of reaching that tiny window seem dimmer with each passing minute. My phone rings and I answer it to find my father-in-law calling from India. He says that the breaking news is that London airports are shut due to the ash and wants to know where his son (who will not answer his mobile in office and is not answering his landline) and grandson (who as yet has no phone) are. I assure him that son is at work, probably in a meeting and that the grandson is at daycare. I have not heard about any ash (but then I am cut off from the real world by concerns of the childrearing type, still in a slightly obsessed sleep deprived phase) so I ask him where the ash is coming from. This is the rest of our conversation (and please remember that it is on the phone while the other people jumping in are all in line with me):
30in2005: What ash? Where from? I don’t see any ash.
FIL: I have no idea. The news only says that there is ash coming to London and therefore all the airports are being shut.
30in2005: OK. But is it a fire or something? What sort of ash?
FIL: I don’t know; the news doesn’t say.
Aunty-in-front: It is coming from Scotland. SCOT-LAND. You know, in the north. Lots of ASH!!
Boy-behind-me (with own file of paper): Yes, from the North, you know. In the air you know. Much ash is covering London.
I look up and see the bluest clearest sky I have in days.
30in2005 to FIL (now pointedly ignoring Aunty and Boy by looking at own shoes): I don’t see anything. I am out at the moment. I will call you this evening.
FIL: Find out and don’t get stuck. Who knows they may shut down the Tube. And then baby will be stuck!!
30in2005: Tube was working fine when I came out this morning. Don’t worry I can always take a cab.
Aunty: Tube is working. I came by tube.
Boy: No problem with tube. Even all buses are running. Ash cannot touch the Tube. See I can show you the news on my iphone.
30in2005 to FIL: Can I call you back? Bye.
So two people whom I do not know, who can only hear one side of the conversation, who clearly were eavesdropping instead of minding their own business have given me the news that there is ‘ash’ over London, its coming from the North, possibly Scotland and that the journey home should be fine (in their opinion).
I ignore them, pretend like they never said anything and use every bit of self-restraint to not tell them to shut up. I pop my headphones back into my ears and continue the slow shuffle shuffle shove shove to the token window.