I’ve just spent a quick 36 hours in Italy, taking the role of External Examiner for a PhD defense at SISSA in Italy. I was very happy indeed to “confer the degree of Doctor Philosophiae” on a very worthy young scientist. But getting to and from Trieste was less pleasant.
It started promisingly. En route, they had overbooked the Munich-Trieste leg of my journey, so I gladly accepted Lufthansa’s offer of €250 and €30 for an airport dinner (the airport actually has nice Bavarian food, at least if you like sausages). This got me in a couple of hours late, but, well, Trieste isn’t that interesting anyway (although my hosts are wonderful people and great scientists).
Somehow, though, this threw off the karmic balance (of course I don’t believe in that sort of thing, but stories are much more interesting with such metaphors to structure them) that keeps my world on its usually steady course. Indeed, everything was ticking along — I was especially pleased with the QR code Lufthansa sent to my mobile phone in lieu of a paper boarding pass. But en route back through Munich to London, finally getting on the plane, they asked me, seeing my US passport, “How long will you be in London?” to which I responded, “I reside there”. Unfortunately, although true, this set into motion an unfortunate series of events. My new passport, only renewed a couple of months ago, is missing its “Indefinite Leave to Remain” — as I had, in classic absent-minded-professor mode, managed to lose the old passport with its visa stamp (a long story which I’ll tell when the statute of limitations has passed…). I’ve travelled to and from the UK several times since then, each time entering using the science-fictiony IRIS system which means they don’t actually need to see my passport, just (gulp) my eyes. But this time they explicitly asked, and, honest soul that I am, I, perhaps unwisely, told the truth. But that meant the airline couldn’t be sure I was allowed in the UK, so they called immigration. Unfortunately, the flight was leaving about 5 minutes later, not long enough for the Home Office to check my claims. So I missed my flight, finally spoke to an immigration officer of some sort in the UK, who consented to my returning to the UK later in the evening. Adding the proverbial insult to injury, Lufthansa, seeing no fault of their own in the process, decided to charge me £35 to change flights.
Worst of all, this means I’ll arrive late to see Neil Gaiman discuss artists’ rights tonight, and have to cart my luggage across London.