Thursday, September 02, 2010

LONDON (and what it's like to be detained by the UK Boarder Agency)

So it's kind of unfair to my loyal readers (the handful of you) that I have not updated since June. A lot has happened since then. To answer the first obvious question, no I never 'sent Ex-Patriot at Black Mountain. I came very close a couple of times, but even on my last attempts last Saturday, could not quite pull it off. Needless to say I think the proposed grade of v11 is fair and Alan Moore is a crazy strongmo beast. (note, I am NOT at all disputing Alan's point in the post about grade inflation, but just about that particular problem, and even so, I could be wrong and maybe it's just my bruised ego talking).

Here are some pics of Brett Gottdener from last weekend, first on Soul Snatch (v8) and second on Vegan Shoveler (v7), both are area classics.

But whatever ... climbing aside for now, let's get to the good stuff, the relevant stuff, the stuff you want to see and hear about NOW.

Yesterday I flew to London, UK with Maya, where she is starting her Masters in architecture at the Architectural Association (AA) towards the end of this month.

Fortunately for me, my employer is allowing me to work remotely, so I'm pretty psyched about that.

What I am NOT psyched about is what happened to me yesterday after we reached Heathrow.

Upon viewing my passport and asking me a few simple questions about how long I'd be staying in the United Kingdom and why, and where else I was going on my trip (I have no return ticket, but will be traveling frequently to maintain visitor status) she informed me that my answers were not satisfactory to her and that she would need me to have a seat for a minute while she got one of her colleagues who would question me further. Apparently being an internationally traveling rock climber with a job that allows me to work remotely and a girlfriend to help move to London didn't sound legit to this woman. At least not without a return ticket.

GREAT I thought, just what I need, a grilling from a boarder agent, but I was calm and didn't expect any trouble. Little did I know ...

So after at least 30 minutes of sitting in front of the boarder agent desks waiting, a younger girl approached me and asked my name and said to follow her. We went to baggage claim, where Maya was waiting with all of our bags (at least none of them got lost this time) and needless to say she looked a little worried. The girl explained that she should have a seat and we'd be back shortly. So we took my bags upstairs where the girl searched all of my belongings, and finding nothing to implicate me in any way, and plenty of evidence that I was legit (huuge haul bag full of climbing gear, duh) she took me back down to Maya, where we told Maya to go wait outside of the baggage claim, where loved ones meet expected arrivals, and that it could be a while before she saw me ... GREAT again.

Once she got me upstairs, the boarder agency girl dropped me off with some folks who were actually very pleasant and joking with me, even while they searched my stuff and told me that I could be locked in the holding room from 10 minutes to 10 hours and that they had no idea which it would be. They offered me soup, sandwiches, fruit and crackers, and I politely declined, stating that if for some unforeseen reason I was there for long enough to get hungry that I would ask for some food. The couches were upholstered pink, but without cushions, and the only other people in the holding room were two Pakistani dudes who had been there for over 24 hours and smelled reeeeally bad. But I mean, who could blame them? They'd been there for over a day. I actually felt pretty bad for the guys, who claimed to have legitimate visas and were still being held. But who knows what their full story was?

About an hour and a half later (keep in mind that with all the waiting it had already been over an hour since I should have been able to get my bags and leave), the girl finally came back and took me for my interview. We sat at the a table in a glass cubicle, with a recording device in the middle. If I hadn't yet felt like I was in a movie, I did at that point. The interview went smoothly. Her questions were simple, and I obviously had factual and reasonable answers for her. I mean, obviously, I'm not on an espionage mission, I don't pose any security threat, and I'm not even trying to look for a job here. My mini triumph was when she asked why I had not yet purchased any tickets for my further travel, I informed her that "I'm an American. I like freedom." To that she actually chuckled. Although it couldn't have been much more cut and dry, she still said she had to have a meeting with her supervisor about our interview before they could come to a decision on my status. WTF?! I thought, but it was starting to feel more and more like she just had to go through procedure to let me go, so I didn't feel too anxious. More than anything, I was worried about Maya, who had been sitting outside the terminal for over three hours waiting for me. I had tried to call her from the holding room, and I even got a hold of our friend and new flatmate Mollie, to text Maya the number to the pay phone in the holding room, but the phone was being weird and I hadn't been able to speak to her.

When we went to take my prints, nobody was available to do it, supposedly, so I got to go back to holding with the Pakistani dudes for another 30 minutes or more. However, once they did take my prints, I was informed that I was being released and that it would only be another short wait. So back it was to holding for a little, and then they went through all my belongings with me again and sent me on my way.

By the time I got to Maya she had been waiting for me for close to 4 hours. I felt so bad for her ... almost as bad as I felt for myself, but actually maybe it was worse being in her position, not knowing my fate, unable to communicate with me, just waiting for me to show up. Who knows, it sucked for both of us. We were just relieved it was over.

We cabbed it to our friend Mollie's flat in London Fields, an up and coming neighborhood in Hackney, the largest and easternmost borough of London apparently. Sounds like Brooklyn to me, and it feels like it too. I would describe our neighborhood as "Clinton Hill/Bushwicky, but not quite Williamsburg."

Today we took a ferry tour down the River Thames, all the way past Greenwich and the Millennium Dome to the Thames flood barriers. We got local SIM cards in Greenwich, where we had lunch at an ooold tavern named the Trafalgar. The Trafalgar was apparently built in the Victorian era, 170 years ago exactly, and was host to important meetings of the historic Liberal Party and British Navy. We enjoyed some fish and chips and delicious Welsh rarebit and a Duvel, then headed back to the flat by way of train, tube, and bus.

That it pretty much it so far. We went for a walk around the neighborhood and up to Hackney central and I took a bunch of photos, some from our balcony too, and I will leave you with those.

views from the communal balcony

the street we live on

Maya's new best friend, Rupert.

The front of the building, Enterprise House

Maya in front of Enterprise House

pretty flowers

Vietnamese businesses on Mare Street

A squat that apparently they are trying to evacuate

cool old church. these are everywhere, obviously.

everywhere you look, new meets old.

Hackney Town Hall (obv)

Hackney central library and museum

Not sure what Hackney Empire is, but it's
opposite the museum in the same square

See, just like Brooklyn the Orthodox Jews have their own ambulances


  1. Isaac, I live in Hackney, near london fields. If you ever fancy a bouldering session (indoors that is), let us know. You have a few option around there, but the best would be the Castle. Let us know if you need any other climbing beta whilst you in London.


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  3. Wow, quite an adventure. You're safe now though, and you've got a great story to tell over a pint.

    Dude, jealous.
    I expect a phone message like I got last time you moved to a major metropolis.

    Sounds like you've already got the climbing hookup from Ramon, there. Good on you.

    Oh, and I miss you.

  4. Great story Isaac, very entertaining. Thanks for posting the photos of our last trip to BM, it was a good time.

    I'm glad to hear everything worked out in the end with your security experience, now you've got a story about an airplane, kinda.

    You've seen so much history so soon! Enjoy!

    -Brett Gottdener