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Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.


Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

The geographical equivalent of ‘nemesis’

I consider myself an organized, compulsive, dependable person. This premise forms the foundation upon which my entire self-image is constructed; that I am the type of citizen strangers would ask to pack their parachute, or to whom they would entrust the care of their children.

Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the number of people in public parks who fling kids at me.

Unfortunately, it has become apparent over time that my self-image does not apply to public transport. For many years – in the region of 12 – I have blamed Husband. However, while an attractive feature of marriage is having a vanilla scapegoat for any given circumstance, the truth is that Husband has never – to my knowledge – or, incidentally, his – missed a flight.

Not that I missed a flight on this trip. No, that’s not where this is going – although it does pass through the immediate vicinity.

I made London with the minimum of drama or spilt beverage, and my friends Raff and Carol collected me. 

This time, I escaped unscathed from Stansted, even though the airport is like the geographical equivalent of my nemesis (is there a word for that? Solartap or Vet: I’m counting on you, I have to know that word. It would be great if it had five or more syllables. Also Solartap: update your blog, it’s a disgrace.)

The day after, I got on the Internet to book a place on the 04:00am coach from Cambridge to Heathrow the following morning. Afterwards, because I am organized, reliable and dependable, I decided to check in online for my 08:40 Emirates flight. And even though I know my passport details off by heart, because I am compulsive, I decided to fetch the original document to double-check the expiry date.

Aaand my passport was gone.

The panic was instantaneous. Because I always put my passport and ticket in the left hand pocket of my computer bag, behind my wallet, on top of my international travel adaptor. It lives there; that is its home. If it wasn’t in that pocket, it was not of my luggage. (Ok, if something can be ‘not of this world’, then the same rule must be applicable to luggage, SURELY.)

Still, I spent about five minutes staring into the pocket, occasionally groping around the bottom in case my passport had shrunk to minute proportions in the previous 24 hours, or fallen into a secret compartment I had been unaware of.

Then I tore everything out of both travel bags.


I went downstairs and announced admirably calmly: “Bad news. My passport’s missing.”

“What d’y‎ou mean?” said Raff, understandably.

“My passport! It’s gone! It’s not there! I’ve checked- it’s- this is- ARGH! I can’t believe- I think I might- I might have- no, I couldn’t, I’m so anal, surely not! How- no, WHY, yes; why why, WHY does this always happen to me?”

We went out to the garage and scoured Raff and Carol’s car. It wasn’t there. Similarly, it failed to turn up during any of the several subsequent sweeps of my bags.

“Think back,” said Carol. “When did you have it last?”

“When did I- that’s a good question, I- ok, let me think, I’m pretty sure I had it at Stansted- yes- they check the passport just before baggage reclaim, so I had it- I seem to remember sitting somewhere looking at my photo in the front- it’s a crap picture- blue background doesn’t suit my complexion-”

Instead of gripping my by the shoulders and shaking, Carol said, “So you think . . .”

“Right. Yes, well. It could be in the bathroom just off baggage reclaim. Or the Duty Free. OR the arrivals hall at Stansted.”

I called the airport, and followed the voice prompts to Lost & Found, which had closed at 4:30 or two hours prior. Then I called the Irish Embassy and left an incoherent message on the emergency message machine. Then I called Stansted again and followed another perilous IVR trail to a dead-end.

Following is the text exchange with Andrew:-

Me: Honey, disaster here. I appear to have lost my passport. No, I’m not even kidding. We’re trying to get someone at Stansted. Not looking good for flying tomorrow x

Andrew: Ok.

Meanwhile, Raff took over telephonic negotiations. Using a combination of lethal charm (similar to Yogi Bear’s but several degrees more potent) and applied blagging, he managed to hunt down the Duty Manager at Stansted. And if you’ve ever tried to use Stansted Airports’ IVR system, you will appreciate the skill involved.

“Yes, thanks for taking my call. I have a friend here – she’s Irish,” (like that had anything to do with it) – “and she came through the airport yesterday, thinks she might have left her passport there. And it’s an emergency, because, she has a flight to catch first thing tomorrow morning. So if you wouldn’t mind- if you could just- oh, I see. I understand.”

Then he emitted a sequence of ‘mmms’ which ranged from noncommittal to negative, before he said, “So you have it then?”

Carol and I had an extra-large gin & tonic while Raff biked the 90 minute round trip to Stansted to collect my passport.

There aren’t many friends who will do that for you.

Or, for that matter, get up at 03:15 in the morning to drive you to Cambridge to catch a bus.

They’re great

Of course, they might have wanted to be ABSOLUTELY SURE I left.

I haven’t told them the coach stopped at Stansted en route to Heathrow.


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