Editor’s note: This incident happened in August 2009 but I decided not to write about it until I had left the passport-issuing country on the basis of a complete lack of trust in the British Consulate’s Pretoria FCO and what they might do to me.

The story can have another headline:

How to have an illegal passport for 43 years

The United Kingdom (an oxymoron) of Great (another oxymoron) Britain and Northern Ireland purports to look after its citizen’s interests through the FCO – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aka the F-king C-p Organisation.


[The Foreign Office in the 30s – back when there WAS an Empire]

Let me assure you that this is not true. Here’s how it works:

Arriving in Cape Town I discovered that I did not have enough pages for an online visa for the USA (work that one out – as an aside!). I had to renew my passport with the British Consulate in Cape Town who send it to Pretoria.

Sitting in a coffee shop in tranquil Knysna, I receive a phone call from a Mrs Dot Hobbs of the FCO.

“My dear. Your passport is illegal. I am confiscating it. Your father was born in Ireland not Northern Ireland. You were issued the passport in Canberra erroneously (she thought that the codes CAN, AUS were Canada not Canberra!). You are in the country illegally.” “Oh, we have no records of your mother or father in this country”, was the parting shot.

Not a nice way to digest a capaccino and toasted cheese sandwich.

Furious research then followed – where was my father actually born (all my life I had been under the impression was that it had been in Donegal , but that is in Ireland, making me technically ineligible! The law to allow one to claim via your mother comes into effect on 31st December 2009…we’re talking three months here)

The old man did not make misrepresentations or mistakes – especially trying to outwit the Queen. And mother Sylvia bowed to Her Maj every morning.

Numerous telephone calls, all harassing from our Mrs Hobbs – who informed us that “I have the MBE for services to the Queen for 21 years” (I didn’t want to tell her I know an English rugby player who only wears his when he streaks naked as a stunt at parties : she might not have liked that). She made sure that I knew I was in the wrong and had committed a felony.

All that would solve the problem would be my father’s birth certificate. No problem except that it was in France and in a cabinet only we had the key to and we were in South Africa and we had renters in the house.

I supplied proof that I had been issued a passport in 1966; 1976; 1986; 1996; 2003 and that my current passport was valid to 2013. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “We have no records”.

I obtained a copy of my SA birth certificate – it stated Father’s place of birth: North Ireland. Ah! Here we go…Mrs Hobbs … “No, my dear. North Ireland is not Northern Ireland”.

Dear Marianna as a sworn translator for the High Court told me that as the person who filled in the birth certificate was writing in their second language, a court would rule in my favour. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “I am the sole arbitrator”.

Niece Belinda then discovers that my father was born in Londonderry, NORTHERN Ireland – success! No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “Prove it”

Frantic calls to Belfast to obtain a copy of the certificate. Web site down. Payment gateway down. Switchboard jammed. Don’t work on Fridays after lunch.

OK, Jannie in London. Book Ryanair and off you go next week. If that fails, Lovonne gets into her starting blocks to go to Menerbes, open the house, find the certificate and email back to South Africa.

In the interim, Jannie talks to Vodafone UK legal department – of course, you’re elegible. The law has changed – you qualify via your mother. We have her certificate. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “They have no idea of the British law!”

Suddenly, out of the woodwork pops a close relative living in Bath. Yes, I have Dad’s certificate. Scan, email, plop into the inbox : 23h20 on a Thursday evening.

Both Lovonne and I email separately at 23h21 to Mrs Hobbs.

08h30, Friday morning – no call from Mrs Hobbs. We phone. The email has not arrived, IT problems in the Consulate (Broken Britain again!). Please send again and we told her we had a back up in a fax to Johannesburg and a driver to take it to Pretoria for person-to-person delivery. Her reply? “We close early on a Friday”.

Well, 10h30 the email arrived. Suddenly – and begrudgingly – a new passport (and the cancelled, clipped valid passport) were with TNT couriers on their way to Cape Town.

Space prevents me writing more as there were other twists and turns in the story.

The lesson? Travel with all your birth certificates; don’t trust the Consulate to be able to do the job; avoid the British authorities at all costs (they don’t want anyone on that little island anymore); if you have to deal with Mrs Hobbs in the British Consulate in South Africa, rather leave the country and keep hanging in there when you know you’re right!

My overriding reflection is I wonder what Winston Churchill or Maggie Thatcher would have thought of this.


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