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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.

Learning from past mistakes

Previously, my average public transport success rate was inching up to around 80%, but it took a bit of a knock on the Irish trip. Of course, there was the disaster at Stansted when I missed my flight to Ireland after standing in the wrong queue for an hour.  

Then I caught the wrong train to Dublin, where I was admittedly over-confident. After all, trains are much easier than airplanes. There’s less mucking about: no check-in, no baggage check, no cavity search. Often, you don’t even need a passport, which considerably reduces my potential margin for error.


And of course, I had LEARNED from past mistakes.  


Unfortunately, not enough . . . because we come to my return flight to Dubai. Again – and I appreciate that you might find this hard to believe given the incidents above – there was a surfeit of confidence happening. After all, I was equipped with a library of Hard Lessons, including:-

(1) Make sure you double-check the flight date/time, preferably prior to the flight;

(2) A driving licence is not accepted as a substitute for a passport;

(3) Get to the airport before the flight;

(4) Stand in the right queue; and/or

(5) Read the ticket;

(6) Bring the ticket;

(7) And don’t leave it in a phone booth;

(8) Or anywhere else (I haven’t actually LEARNED this; it falls more under the category ‘Near Misses’)

(9) Make sure your residency visa hasn’t expired

In fact, I figured the only lesson left is to ensure I have a visa for countries requiring one, and there’s plenty of time for that one.

That morning, I was up at 06:45hrs, packed some final bits and pieces and bade farewell to Róisín’s boyfriend, whose flat we were staying in. It was around about then that I checked my bag for passport presence and . . . it wasn’t there. You might say the presence was poor to non-existent.

Hard Lesson #10: relative proximity of passport. (Ok, so I actually learned that on a business trip, but it was over 10 years ago so it was about time for a refresher course.)

We guessed that the most likely location of the passport was Róisín’s flat, at which point I spent five minutes running around in circles screaming, which gave Róisín an opportunity to waterproof her new Ugg Boots. Seriously. I was wearing a hole in Tim’s welcome mat, going: ‘We might be able to make it to the airport via your house in time if we leave now, I mean NOW in the immediate sense of the word,’ while Róisín sprayed her Ugg Boots: ‘Just a second, I need to do the heel’.

Then we exited the door at a gallop. Róisín’s sense of time is rather Irish; she was confident we’d make the trip from Clapham South to Walthamstow Central in twenty minutes, including a stop-off for coffee.

An hour and 3 litres of cold sweat later, we arrived at Walthamstow Central and charged a taxi.

“You forgot your passport?” said our driver, slapping the steering wheel. “That’s a joke. Ha ha! Very funny.”

“You know, firstly,” I said, chillingly, “I’m not finding it all that funny, joke-wise. Secondly, I think it’s technically more a cliché than a joke.”

“Why didn’t you check your bag before you left the house?” enquired our driver.

“Good question,” said Róisín. “Niamh?”

“You should always check your bag before leaving the house,” advised our driver.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said. “<mutter: Don’t count on getting one yourself>”

“Once I picked up a woman. She was all excited. Going on holiday, you know? I brought her all the way to Heathrow. Then remembered she left her passport at home. I had to drive her back.”

“And?” said Róisín, ever idealistically yearning for the happy ending.

“She missed her flight.”

My passport was on Róisín’s living room sofa underneath a duvet.

On our way back to Walthamstow Central, Róisín rang Tim, who had checked the Emirates flights from London and established that there were seats free on the 14:15 flight. I am strongly encouraging Róisín to marry the man. One second after it opened, I rang the Emirates Service Desk and booked myself onto the afternoon flight.

Róisín didn’t slag me off once. Either the woman can’t recognise an opportunity, or she’s a saint.

The following text exchange with Andrew reminds me why I am blessed to be with him:- 

Me: Missed flight 😦


Andrew: Bugger. What happened? 


Me: Which would you believe? (a) The flight was cancelled (b) A flock of rogue sheep took over Heathrow (c) The wing fell off the airplane (d) I forgot my passport 


Andrew: Those dam sheep 🙂

I like to think Husband was so thrilled to see me he didn’t mind my arriving at 01:00hrs

Goosed by the long arm of the law

I’m not sure what is going on with our Chi, but over the last month we have been soundly goosed by the long arm of the law. Honestly, I have no idea what is going on. We are far too middle class – not to mention middle aged – to be embarking on a life of crime. However, we need to seriously consider that it is our destiny.

One evening, we were driving home when Husband pulled out of a slip-road and into the fast lane on the motorway. Up ahead, we saw a police car negotiate the line of trucks crawling down the slow lane. The policeman drifted across the road, spent a little time contemplating the middle lane, then straddled the fast and middle lanes. Husband had to slam on the brakes to avoid giving him a bumper up the exhaust.

“OH. MY. GOD! Will you LOOK at that feckin’ EEJIT? WHAT does he think he’s DOING?” I said (and I’m sure as you read that line you could visualise the accompanying gesticulations.)

“Niamhie, please don’t point,” said My Beloved, wincing.

Finally deciding on the middle lane, the policeman drew level with us. He flashed the blue, issued an impressive blast of siren and pointed to the side of the road.

Husband pulled up behind the Fuzz in the lay-by. I considered getting out to apologise for ridiculing him – because that was obviously the reason he had pulled us over – but we decided it was probably unwise given that I was suffering chronic repetitive eyeroll. Also my arm was still twitching. And I’m a coward.

After Husband produced his driving licence and registration card, the Fuzz said that Husband was driving too fast. Now I would like to stick up for Husband (hey, it’s the least I can do after getting him pulled over), and state that for once Husband wasn’t trying to break the sound barrier: he was doing about 90kph in a 120kph zone.

“Yes, I’m terribly sorry,” said my poor husband. “I don’t know what I was thinking. You are so right. You are quite the hero and oh my, what a big penis you have. No problem, I can stand here for another five minutes while you wave it around.”

And oh my, what a stupid wife I have, he could have added – and I admire his loyalty/restraint in omitting that.

We were let off with a warning.

But the hits, they just keep on coming. This Saturday, Danny invited us out in his dinghy to catch a few rays, maybe do a bit of diving.

We were about 100 metres offshore – barely 5 minutes out of port – when we were apprehended by the Coastguard. Danny had not been aware that his boat – little more than a US$ 250 upended tub with an outboard motor – should be registered.

Our twin-turbined friend was adamant that we sail down to Port Rashid to get a serious dressing-down (personally, I’m not sure whether we could have been any more dressed down without being indecent). He failed to appreciate that, at a top speed of half a knot, his plan was neither safe nor practical. We suggested returning to port, loading the boat onto the trailer and driving down to Port Rashid, but I don’t think his brain was capable of processing common sense.

He radioed a couple of his buddies and they spent two hours towing Danny’s boat to Port Rashid where we woke up the man in charge. He came out to greet us in a vest and a pair of really exceptionally skimpy shorts. The tedium must have been getting to him, because we were the highlight of his day: he devoted three hours to making inane conversation and waving his fat, hairy legs at us.

Apparently it is law in the UAE that all seagoing vessels (the Coastguard was particularly stuttery when it came to what constituted a seagoing vessel. A surf-ski? No, no, of course not. A kayak? No, no, of course not. A ten-foot dinghy? No- yes- no- hmm) are registered. Not only that, but you must request permission of the Coastguard every time you put to sea. Oh, and neither Danny, Husband nor I had any identification on us, having left our wallets at the beach.

Just when we thought he was going to produce the nipple clamps, he tired of toying with us and called the police.

“They might want to press charges,” he said.

At this stage we were a sadly salt-encrusted and bedraggled trio: Danny in his panama hat with streaks of suncream down his cheeks; me trying to pull my Speedo top down over my midriff; Husband shiny and red in a singlet with his hair all stuck up on one side. The policeman arrived and took a statement from Danny and, for just a moment, we caught a whiff of – was it freedom? – no, just bullshit; we were to be escorted to the Rashid Police Station.

And so we spent what was left of the afternoon with our buddies The Fuzz. Nobody was willing to make any sort of decision and the art of covering your arse may not be subtle but it is time consuming.

Most of the police I have come across in my life tend to be so stupid they could throw themselves on the ground and miss. Well ok, I haven’t come across that many (please refer to the note above re middle classness): in fact, until I arrived in the Middle East my only brush with the law was more a gentle dusting. When I was about 15, I was stopped in Limerick by the Garda Síochána for cycling the wrong way up a one-way street with no lights.

“Don’t you have better things to be doing than harassing citizens for cycling without lights? I mean, shouldn’t you be off catching rapists and murderers and the like?” (I was fearless as a teenager. And impertinent).

“Get outta dere before I call the . . . ,” he puzzled for a moment, before finishing: “your mother.”

“Thanks Inspector Sergeant Major.”

“It’s Garda.”


“Tanks. Go wan now.”

The police in this country don’t seem to be much brighter, although they are possibly the most pleasant collective you could ever hope to come across. However, polite and all as they are, I am still far from inclined to voluntarily spend an afternoon in their company.

There was a lot of shrugging and, “What can we do? The Coastguard wants to press charges.”

In total, we spent 8 hours detained by the coastguard and police. At 5:30pm Husband was finally released to collect the car and our IDs. The police wanted us all to submit our passports as guarantee that we would return the following morning for an interview with The Major.

I told them Husband’s passport and mine were in the wash. “What the <expletive deleted> do they <extreme expletive deleted> want with our <expletive deleted> passports?” demanded Husband when I called him.

Husband’s patience threshold is generally pretty high and it is a rare and spectacular event when it is breached. “This is getting <expletive deleted> ridiculous.”

Upon his return, Husband disregarded Danny’s strategy of exquisite public-school manners laced with sycophantic apology and morphed into full-frontal Diva mode: “You want us all to come back? For WHAT? If a driver breaks the law, are all his passengers at fault too, HMM? I DON’T THINK SO. Alright, alright, ALRIGHT! We’ll be here. What time? Well, is it 8:30 or 9:00? WHATEVER! *HUFF!*”

The following morning we presented ourselves at the station and, while I sat in Reception reading Emirates Today, Husband and Danny went for a chat with The Major. Of course, The Major had no idea why his time was being wasted on these clowns, time that could have been better spent picking his nose and texting his mistresses.

Although there are no charges, Danny’s passport is being held until he registers his boat

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