Friday, January 11, 2008

The Saga Continues...

A few days ago I received an unexpected phone call, from British Customs. They had my camera (in hoc, it felt like), that Matt and Sarah had so kindly sent back in care of Matt's mother from Qatar ( for more information, see Sarah's blog). Unfortunately, the representative I talked to didn't know how to get the camera to me because of weird customs rules, because they couldn't prove that the camera had already been in the UK, and so were concerned with its origins, with why it had been in Qatar, and load of other bureaucratic issues that to be honest I didn't really understand, and I secretly suspect they didn't either. If I could come up with a receipt of purchase (on a two year old camera that had been a Christmas gift from my In-Laws, mind you), then maybe she could do something. Needless to say, I found it to be a frustrating phone call, not knowing that old and used cameras sent internationally warranted such a bother. Eventually the woman said that she knew of no way to get me the camera unless they charged us an import tax, of up to 20 pounds, which is 40 dollars. At this my heart sank, because it was all a funny story until the British Government wrung us dry to "import" a camera. Even telling myself that they were letting us have a baby for free in their country didn't make me feel better about England at that moment.

The woman told me that they would call back, and then I could pay the tax. I awaited the phone call the rest of the day, but it never came. Avram and I thought of various things that we could do to make them give us our camera, but they all involved ridiculous schemes, such as going to London in person, that would probably end up costing as much or more than simply paying the tax, and as we realized this we wondered if that had been the government's sinister plan all along; let the poor, unsuspecting foreigners in, and then sap them dry with hidden taxes. A little paranoid, true, but we were feeling attacked, by bureaucracy, if nothing else.

The days passed with nary a peep from any official, and Avram and I had just decided that they had chucked our camera into the trash, or something, when it arrived in the mail. The box was there, with no tax needed or owed, and very neatly, where Matt's mother had written the contents of the package, and the worth (75 dollars), someone had marked it out with a permanent black marker, so officially and bureaucratically the box carried...nothing. All in all, we feel much more kindly disposed to bureaucracy now, if a little curious if this is how, in a land that practically invented the concept of bureaucracy, government officials deal with problems they don't want bother with.

"We have a man on death row (which they probably don't even have here; excuse my inaccuracies). Rather than deal with all of the paperwork, lets just neatly black out this little box that says, 'killed little old ladies on the subway,' and let him go free...." So I'm rather silly in equating my little old camera with serial killers, but in my delirious relief of both having our camera back (must keep the grandmothers happy) and of not having to pay for the privilege made me rather giddy in the moment.

Thus, the saga of our little camera, that has traveled the globe comes to an end, and to seal this story I present a propitiatory picture:

In other musings, I'm rather surprised and proud, although I don't know why, because it doesn't actually reflect on me at all, of how many people have done the same tag that I did; to date it's seven out of the people on my links. I think because they were good questions, actually.

Relating to that; Don, I have read The Loved One (I found it in your library, actually, and thought it sounded like a nice, pleasant romance or something, which was my first mistake), although at the time, when I was about 12 or so, I was completely unaware that Evelyn Waugh had written it, and in truth probably thought he was a woman. Your comment threw me into a tizzy, because I had carefully repressed that book, because what in truth was subtle British humour, etc, etc, completely missed me at that age, and I was just profoundly disturbed by the book, especially the scene where the pet cemetery guy is checking to see if she cremated properly...I'll probably need a sedative to sleep now. So I exaggerate. It's amazing what a book read at the wrong age, or with insufficient understanding can do to one. For example, I first read "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka around then as well, and also have yet to recover from that reading either.


  1. Good to know that the Camera got there okay, and in retrospect, you could have told the government functionary (flunky, toady, stooge) to check the pictures in the Camera's memory where the could see pictures of England's green and pleasant land. Though, that would have necessitated them getting though all that bubble wrap. Bubble wrap, which, I might add, I felt almost sadistic taping into place - like one of those Christmas presents that have six inches of wrapping paper you have to get though before you can find the prize.

    And, speaking of Kafka, and now that you've been properly exposed to the Bureaucracy, you should read The Castle. Or, The Trial.

    - Matt

  2. I forgot to mention, but I was rather impressed by the quantity of bubble wrap; Lydia thought it was the most exciting present we've received at all, or at least the unwrapping of it was. I too remembered, after the phone call, that I should have told them to check the camera's memory. It's like being witty in retrospect; comforting only to oneself.

  3. "Like being witting in retrospect" You tickle my funny bone. Love the new Lydia picture. Can't wait to take my own--just over two months. How time flies. So glad the camera is back.

  4. In France, when you think of something clever to say after the moment has passed, it's called "esprit d'escalier" . . . wit of the staircase, as in you thought of it going down the stairs on your way out.

    You should never read any more Kafka. I haven't, not since I was dragged by my hair through The Metamorphosis, and my feel that my life has been blessed and enriched in consequence.

  5. Nobody should EVER have to read Kafka. Or any other work of serious literature. The junior high school kids I've taught all positively HATE Ender's Game-- because they've been MADE to read it!

    Sorry you got scared at a young age by my bookshelf. I only keep books I reread often. The Loved One I first read as a high school sophomore, and loved it. But then, sixteen-year-old boys are not known for squeamishness.

    On another note, be glad you were not trying to get your camera through Dominican customs!