The visit has become a ritual and involves lining up at 6:30 am in perilously cold weather in advance of an 8:00 office opening. By 7:00, the immigrant line winds far down the street. Arriving much later ensures you a ticket number in the high hundreds and a 4 to 5 hour wait to be processed ensues.
I look forward to the event as much as I look forward to a barium enema following a night of beer and curry.
Important preparations are undertaken in advance of the visit. I do not shower or shave for a week and put aside my Saville Row threads to don a soiled shell track suit with a hood.
My training with the French Foreign Legion in undercover snatch raids holds me in good stead. I urinate down my trouser leg and smear elk fat on my face to ensure I blend in.
It is 6:45 and colder than a witch’s tit. The sun rise is obscured by grey snow clouds and swirling flakes. A queue is already forming. A small crowd huddle around a steaming cauldron. Chickens run riot chased by a mangy mutt. A small tethered goat looks nervously to a dark mass sharpening a blade.
I wire myself to my iPOD. I am mission ready. I engage.
I slip seamlessly into the small queue, unnoticed. Within minutes I am in a deep iPOD coma… welcome to the shuffle zone… as if by magic, the device is delivering one rapture inducing tune followed by another. My endorphins are swimming with delight!
I am abruptly struck by the Hammer of the Gods… The zone has been violated... Robert Plant is screaming… ‘AaAaAaaaaaaaaa Aah’… ‘We come from the land of the ice and snow’… My deep meditation is breaking… I am numbing… this whole scene is fucking bleak… I am on the verge of existential depression… I have little misery left to give… Valhalla I am coming.
A familiar whine of guitars breaks through the wall of despair just as a ray of light cracks the overcast horizon… and shines on me… it is my clarion call… I break my cover… I sing at the top of my lungs, ‘I, I will be king… And you, you will be queen… Though nothing will drive them away… We can beat them, just for one day… We can be Heroes, just for one day.’
Smiles are breaking out all of the way down the line… they fall like dominoes… it is contagion! The crowd starts to sing along with me and heaves to the rhythm… ‘We can be Heroes for ever and ever… What d’you say?’
Looking into the eyes of my fellow immigrant I am stuck by the dignity… for a brief moment I understand that we are the same… we have all come from the same place… we are all going to the same place. There is a divine simplicity to this thought and again I surrender to peace.
I am abruptly struck, for a second time today, this time on the back of the head by the trampling hords scurrying to obtain their tickets as the doors to the station are opened. I try to pull myself to my feet but am suppressed to the ground by the crowd.
The silence is eerie. I am alone. The queue has been swallowed by the station. There are no tickets left today. Punishment comes in many guises.
I will come back tomorrow.